Wed 12 Feb 2014
This came out a few weeks ago before I became the spokesman for Hollywood poetry by actors/actresses. Available for free download!
Wed 12 Feb 2014
This came out a few weeks ago before I became the spokesman for Hollywood poetry by actors/actresses. Available for free download!
Tue 14 Jan 2014
Sat 10 Aug 2013
This was the original cover concept for my recent book of poems “Viva Miscegenation,” just rediscovered it on my hard drive. Couldn’t use it because I couldn’t get permissions for the photograph. Liked the idea a lot, a book of poems designed like a jazz CD insert.
Mon 29 Jul 2013
Here’s the selection of “lost” Los Angeles poets and first paragraphs of the intro that I edited and wrote for Paul Revere’s Horse. Included are poems by the Mexican poet Dantés, Nora May French, Olive Percival, Julia Boynton Green, Virginia Church, Alice Fowlie Whitfield, James Boyer May, Curtis Zahn, the music critic Peter Yates, John Thomas, super-masochist Bob Flanagan and Michélle T. Clinton.
Poetry in the United States is focused in two major urban centers, New York and San Francisco. While other cities have developed poetry “scenes,” it is these two cities that seem perennially able to renew their poetic identities, with fresh influxes of young writers and a substantial group of older, decidedly “established,” mentors to maintain a sense of continuity with previous generations and their aesthetic strategies. Other cities, such as Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, also have a number of writers with national reputations, and their traditions are old and deep, especially in the case of Boston, but none of them have risen to or maintained the status of a pole of activity, at least since the time of the New Americans, when an axis seemed to develop between New York and San Francisco. Of course, it is impossible to determine the exact parameters of a “major poetry city,” the term itself being inelegant, and writers in these cities (and others, such as Austin, Seattle, Lawrence, or Atlanta) don’t often sense a lack, or if they do, it is a productive one. However, these writers usually recognize that they are not in one of the cities associated with poetry—they identify as underdogs, loyal to their local scenes and perhaps even energized by their marginality.
A city not often counted in any of these rubrics is Los Angeles. One of the largest American cities, once dubbed the “city of the future,” it is legendary for its highways, the movie industry, miles of quasi-suburban “villages,” racial strife and wild economic disparities, and general air of being an outpost on the tail end of the country. It has also managed to nurture and sustain a number of poets who have attained national reputations, but nonetheless the city hasn’t acquired, to most eyes, an identifiable poetic “style” that illustrates to the readers of its poetry what the city means as an intellectual, artistic center, a stark contrast to the various styles of visual art—including the pop-inspired works of Baldessari and Ruscha, the architecture of Richard Neutra, the found art/assemblage aesthetics of Wallace Berman and Edward Kienholz, the performance art of Chris Burden, Paul McCarthy, and Mike Kelley, and the murals of ASCO—that have identified L.A. for decades. There are many reasons for this—there really aren’t many “older poets” active on the scene, for example, and many Los Angeles writers are quite happy to be working without an active local “tradition” anyway—but I won’t go much further on speculating why this is the case.
Mon 8 Jul 2013
I was asked by Marissa Lopez, my colleague at UCLA, to write the introduction to a symposium (really just a public chat session with music critic Nikki Darling and Jose Maldonado of the Sweet and Tender Hooligans, a Smiths tribute band) concerning Latinos and Emo, probably because of my love of all things Morrissey. This is it, pretty light stuff and written rather quickly but I hope you like:
Introduction to Lat/emo
May 31, 2013
Over the past three or so years I’ve been researching the LA post punk scene, collecting whatever free music is or was available online, going through the used record bins at Amoeba and Counterpoint and various other places in LA, and making a ton of online purchases at sites like Discogs and Musicstack.
My interest in post punk as a genre of music was spurred by Simon Reynolds Rip It up and Start Again which charted the histories of such bands as Joy Division, Devo, The Associates, Scritti Politti, Pete Ubu and others that formed on the cusp of, or in some cases prior to, the punk music explosion of ’77.
My knowledge of LA music, outside of the mainstream either of the early 70s (Fleetwood Mac, Tom Waits, Jackson Brown, etc.) and of the later hair metal era (Mötley Cru, Guns n Roses, etc.), was mostly confined to some punk and hardcore, and even at that it was quite limited — Black Flag and X might have been the only LA punk bands I could have named when I got here.
Soon I discovered such lost gems as the Screamers, Suburban Lawns, the very obscure Null and Void and the even more obscure Wild Kingdom — whose only recording was published as a flexi disk insert for a music fanzine (Brad Laner has a rip of it on the website for his radio show).
From Pasadena, most of Wild Kingdom was made up of Latinos — you can see them on YouTube from their appearance on Peter Ivers new wave theater (the sound is awful) — but that is only worth noting for the rather elaborate pompadour, leather jacket and suede shoes of their lead guitarist. Wildly experimental, I don’t hear too much Chicano influence in their music; the track, “Roma/Destiny,” starts as ebullient space music with one of the most unusual drum beats I’ve ever heard, to something like carny music, then back to space music again.
[The video below is from their appearance on New Wave Theater with horrible sound. The track "Roma/Destiny," their only studio recording, is a thousand times more interesting but you get a sense of their appearance and instrumentation here.]
I focused on post punk also because that’s kind of the music of my youth — and not punk, which predates me a bit and besides was a little too aggressive for my sensitive poetic soul in my teen years (I was also an MTV kid, and punk never really broke there). So my goal, really, was to uncover whatever music in LA that matched up with that post punk aesthetic — experimental, sophisticated but still DIY, at once political and concerned with emotions and solitude, and wildly imaginative (costumes, make-up, synths and videos shot in exotic locations — and which didn’t make it across the country to New Jersey.
I was surprised at how many musicians of color — Latino but also a fair amount of Asians (Dianne Chai of the Alley Cats, Susan Rhee of Susan Rhee and the Orientals, a woman who goes by the name of Cyrnai) and even black presence (notably Pat Smear but also a ska band called the Untouchables and, of course, Fish Bone) — were on the scene, if not at the start, then later.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, it was really in the Latino music (with the exception of Fish Bone) that one heard a real cross cultural mix — not in every song, perhaps, but overtly at moments and maybe as a subtle undercurrent of pining after, or critique of, the American Dream that is buried deep in the mix and the lyrics but which decidedly reflects the attitudes of generations of Latino US culture. Not nihilism but an allusive poetry, not just critique from the outside but politics from within the margins.
East LA had its own club, The Vex (started by Willie Herron of Los Illegals) partly to address the fact that most east LA bands outside of the Plugz and, later, Los Lobos couldn’t get gigs on the Strip. The Vex clubs became a meeting place for the punk bands and the more traditional Mexican music that had a young audience (a good compilation of this music is Los Angelenos – the Eastside Rennaissance, which includes the Plugz, the Brat among other obscure acts).
Probably the Chicana musician most associated with the LA punk scene is Alice Bag, born Alicia Armendariz, front woman of the band the Bags. I haven’t read her autobiography, Violence Girl : East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, A Chicana Punk Story, but reviews show her story to have been, indeed, quite violent and not a little inspirational.
Bag might better remembered as a great charismatic figure in the early days of punk — she did in fact wear bags — though the recordings of the music I’ve heard (mostly live tracks) seem to fit the punk, and not post punk mode I was looking for. She’s featured in Penelope Spheeris documentary about the LA punk scene The Decline of Western Civilization though after the band had broken up — she left music to become an educator.
But I think the most important bands for the purposes of a conference on Latino emo would be the Plugz and the Brat. The Plugz were far more accomplished — their first LP, Electrify Me, which features their punk version of La Bamba (which figured in the Repo Man soundtrack) was full on electric guitar-bass-drum punk. I’ve lost my copy of this LP so couldn’t review it (neither the Plugz nor the Brat feature — surprise! — on Spotify).
Their second, Better Luck, features better production and more accomplished songwriting — Tito Larriva, their lead singer and songwriter, could fit easily among the “angry young man” post punk generation of the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello — as well as the inclusion of horn sections, entire songs in Spanish, complex harmonies, and pastiches of various styles of music such as reggae, a kind of jerky Devo-ish beats, jangly pop and traditional Mexican.
Larriva’s lyrics are poetic, including humorous reflections on So-Cal life in the 70s such as waiting on a gas line — the outro to that tune pleads “Don’t light a match! Don’t light a match! Don’t light a match!” etc. — watching unattainable, if slightly sketchy, girls on a hot day on the street (which he recorded for an important album of spoken word poetry in LA), the tale of an American who “took the bait” (I think a critique of mindless capitalism), and somewhat gruesome evocations of having a brother involved in violent street crime, slot throats and all.
This sort of mix seems not inimical to Morrissey himself, who could often mix politics, ethics, infatuations with the life of crime and erotic longing in a single song. Larriva — who also had a great voice, not the most versatile tool but distinctive, an urban existentialist singing through the clenched teeth of a gangster — went in to form Cruzados, Tito and Tarantula and others and he is also known as an actor in Roberto Rodriguez films and elsewhere. He’s also scored films.
Lesser known is Teresa Covarrubias, lead singer of the Brat (other members included brothers Rudy and Sidney Medina), which only managed to record an EP for Larriva’s own label, Fatima records. Covarrubias is described as being introverted and yet dynamic on stage – one website states: “Covarrubias remembers that sometimes audiences were surprised by her off-beat yet alluring stage presence and didn’t expect much from someone so petite, brown and seemingly timid.”
Covarrubias’ lyrics (I’m assuming she wrote them, I don’t have credits for the LP) could also vear from the political to the personal quite quickly — one song called “The Wolf” has as its refrain “The wolf and the lambs… we are the lambs” and sings of “democracy laced with hypocrisy” while “Attitude” could be a high school anthem — it seems entirely about declarations of personal identity, an emo theme if there ever was one — and “Starry Night” is a love song.
The structures aren’t quite as sophisticated as the Plugz — very much four part punk (one track clocks in at 54 seconds) with some X influence — but are terribly effective, especially due to Covarrubias’s clear but expressive voice rising over the hard electric din (it resembles Belinda Carlyle’s in this way, a little flavorless but, in juxtaposition to the intense lyrics and clanging music, just right), some nice rhythm guitar work and background vocals. It would be truly a loss if they were able to work past this early sound in later years and yet never found a contract.
Los Illegals are also a hugely important East LA band but maybe I don’t see their connection to emo as clearly. Formed as a wing to the art/political collective ASCO, they seem a little less personal, less vulnerable than the Plugz or the Brat. No less imaginative – some of their songs have a sci-fi apocalyptic or noirish intensity — they are never personally introspective, though of course I think introspection of a sort — social introspection based on communal fear and rage? — lies at the heart of their most satiric songs, like The Mall and Guinea Pigs.
Besides, I’ve spoken long enough! I’m eager to learn more about the infamous Latino fanbase for the music of the Smiths and Morrissey — it all makes sense to me now but I confess it was surprising when I first learned of it back in new York!
Wed 26 Jun 2013
Tue 25 Jun 2013
|Su Tissue, Suburban Lawns (Photo: Bruce Kalberg)|
|Jack Brewer and Joe Baiza, Saccharine Trust (Photo: Victor Sedillo)|
204 Great City — Night Flight to Tangiers (1986) 5:05205 The Toasters — Teenage Tease (1980) 3:59
224 Peter Ivers and David Lynch — In Heaven (1977) 1:46225 Nip Drivers — You Need Us (2000) 1:10
Sat 15 Jan 2011
Below are the results of my internet searches and Facebook status update responses concerning “experimental” or “underground” theater and dance in Los Angeles. Not all of this could be called “experimental” — the Blank Theater Company, for example — but I’ve included them just for my own perverse reasons.
I’ve seen nothing by most of these writers, directors or groups, except for things ar REDCAT, notably a production by my brilliant friend Melanie Rios Glaser and her company The Wooden Floor.
I’m excited to see Alice Tuan here. I had never heard of her, but according to her biography, she’s done work with the Flea back in New York. Most of my best theater experiences were through the Flea and the writers associated with Mac Wellman and the “Little Theatre” series curated by Jeffrey Jones, so I’m interested in seeing what she does. She also studied with Paula Vogel, with whom I studied (for one semester) out at Brown.
If you know of any other writers, directors or organizations that belong here, please let me know!
Alice Tuan / CalArts
Bryan Reynolds / Transversal
CalArts School of Theater
Circle X Theatre Co.
Cornerstone Theater Company
Diavolo Dance Theater
Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre
Highways Performance Space and Gallery
Hollywood Fringe Festival
Mady Schutzman / CalArts
Melanie Rios Glaser / The Wooden Floor
Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Poor Dog Group
Son of Semele Ensemble
Susan Simpson / The Manual Archives
The Blank Theater Company
The Actors Gang
The SpyAnts Theater Company
The Underground Theater Online
Theatre of Note
Travis Preston / CalArts
Upright Citizens Brigade
Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group
Tue 28 Sep 2010
I have fled as Niagara, I’ve fled as a fishtail.
I have fled as a magpie sporting only a necktie.
I have fled omnivorously, on a chafing dish.
I have fled as a scent from the Orient.
I have fled as a crystal. I have fled as a wiz.
I have fled as a quail, to no avail.
I have fled as a squint that sorely hides.
I have fled as a fossil, as a riptide.
I have fled as a bulimic, starving bitterly
As will she who dines with me.
I have fled with my nose in a book.
[This poem appears, in a slightly different version, in his book New Depths of Deadpan, 2009. This is what the poem sounded like when he read it at Segue in 2004, with me as co-reader. Charles Borkhuis said we fit together "like a foot in a mouth." I just know I loved him and will continue to do so.]
Fri 4 Dec 2009
CREDIT Launch! & Conceptual Lit Reading! in Los Angeles!
Outpost for Contemporary Art
presented by General Projects, Blanc Press and Insert Press
Saturday December 19, 2009 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
1268 N. Ave 50, Los Angeles, CA 90042 (323) 982-9461
Do you sometimes wonder: “What the heck is Conceptual Writing!?” Some amazing new fad sweeping the nation? Some bland thing a bunch of dudes thought up in a bar as a joke? The new genre of infomercials after the tragic death of Ron Popeil? All this and so much more?!!
After a string of conferences, events, publications, etc–Conceptual Poetry and its Others conference at University of Arizona Poetry Center, May 29-31, 2008; Flarf vs. Conceptual Writing! at The Whitney, April 17, 2009; Conceptual Writing! & Its Environs, The Uferhallen, Berlin, May 1, 2009; a portfolio of Flarf and Conceptual Writing! in Poetry Magazine, July/August, 2009–Conceptual Writing! has arrived in LA, only to find that it’s already there!? Los Angeles!? Conceptual Writing!
Discover Conceptual Writing! and so much more as you encounter the Conceptual Writing! of Harold Abramowitz, Joseph Mosconi, Bruna Mori, Vanessa Place, Ara Shirinyan, Brian Kim Stefans, Mathew Timmons and Christine Wertheim at the Conceptual Lit Reading! & CREDIT Launch! in Los Angeles! at Outpost for Contemporary Art in Highland Park on Saturday December 19, 2009 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. presented by General Projects, Blanc Press and Insert Press.
Come celebrate the release of Mathew Timmons’ CREDIT, an 800 page, large format, full color, hardbound book published by Blanc Press and retailing for $199.99 which the author himself lacks the cash or credit to purchase. Come also to celebrate Conceptual Writing! in Los Angeles! with the wonderful Conceptual Writing! of Harold Abramowitz, Joseph Mosconi, Bruna Mori, Vanessa Place, Ara Shirinyan, Brian Kim Stefans, Mathew Timmons and Christine Wertheim at the CREDIT Launch! & Conceptual Lit Reading! in Los Angeles! at Outpost for Contemporary Art in Highland Park on Saturday December 19, 2009 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. presented by General Projects, Blanc Press and Insert Press.
For more information about this event, please contact: laliterature [at[ gmail [dot[ com