Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Memorial Day

Usually, Memorial Day kind of gets lost in the shuffle for me. May is always insanely busy, and the long weekend always ends up just being a chance to get mildly caught up on life. And then last year, of course, Memorial Day was Day 4 of my MA exams, and that was no fun at all. (Actually, by Day 4, I was in pretty good shape, and ended up going to see a movie that evening. Days 1-2 were less pleasant.)

But I managed to have a nice Memorial Day this year. I usually TA on Mondays, so I had an actual day off. A friend was housesitting for a family that lives up in the Santa Monica mountains, over the ridge from Malibu, and invited us to come up and barbecue and swim in the pool. There were dogs to play with, lots of roasted vegetables, a movie/nap, and even a hot tub. Completely red-blooded American day, and I loved it.

The faculty all received copies of my dissertation proposal today. They'll vote to approve it (hopefully!) on Thursday, and then I do the actual defense in front of my committee two weeks later. In the meantime, I'm giving a lecture in class tomorrow, on Thursday a presentation in seminar on Martha Graham, and then the next week I need to turn in what is my very last seminar paper of all time! Good times.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sunset Strip Melancholia

Walking to go see a movie last night, I strolled along the Sunset Strip for the first time in awhile. It was very busy for a Saturday night. I once read somewhere that you can always chart whether or not an LA party neighborhood is attracting celebrities or suburbanites by the nights it was busy--celebs don't go out on the weekend, they leave that to people who have to work for a living.

The Sunset Strip was the first real bit of Los Angeles I saw when I moved here. Mary and I drove out here in the summer of 2003 without housing settled yet, so we stayed with a childhood friend of Mary's who lives in the valley. We arrive there at night, and the next morning, he drove the two of us into the city to look for an apartment. We drove over the hills through Laurel Canyon, which is a narrow two-lane road that goes up and over the Hollywood Hills, crossing Mulholland Drive and winding down through movie star homes and bohemian shacks. At the bottom of the hill, you are suddenly spit out onto into a forest of giant billboards, outlandish restaurants, hotels so ugly you know they have to be famous, and legions of scantily dressed plastic surgery nightmares.

Once I was moved into my apartment, just a block away from the Strip, our friend took us out for a night. We first went to The Standard, and it was everything I wanted Los Angeles to be. It is just a hotel, with a lounge in the lobby where you can...well, lounge. But it was like no hotel I had ever seen before. There was a DJ spinning next to the check-in desk, a thick shag rug, round pillows upon which to sit awkwardly while drinking your watermelon martinis, and a pool out back overlooking a view of the entire city.. And the pièce de resistance was a lucite box behind the check-in counter, in which sat a young woman in her underwear, asleep. Apparently, The Standard hires women to hang out in the box in shifts, just for atmosphere. It's still my favorite place to go to remind myself I live in Los Angeles.

That first year in Los Angeles, I used to walk the Strip a lot at night, when I was bored and a little lonely. It was always fun to watch the scene. I'd walk by The Standard, to make sure the woman in the box was still there. Next came the Saddleranch, a western-themed restaurant with plastic dummies hanging out the upper windows, and a mechanical bull that always brings out the worst in drunken celebutantes. There was the Hyatt, where Jim Morrison supposedly used to hang by his fingertips from the balconies, freaking out the crowds below, and across the street an outpost of the House of Blues, trying to imitate a rusty southern blues shack. And across from the House of Blues was the Mondrian, home of the Skybar. It's an ordinary square hotel, but completely surrounded by inanity. Two giant wooden doors, so enlarged they look like toys, hang in the middle of the driveway. The valet parkers all have to wear white painters uniform, complete with white caps. To get to the Skybar--I've been once--you have to go into the lobby and take an elevator up to the top. There, you have to make your way past a velvet rope, but once you do, you are in this truly bizarre outdoor lounge overlooking the city. There is a pool, lots of ferns, and plush mattresses scattered about so you can kind of lounge uncomfortably. (There is a theme here.)

Further down the Strip, you go through a section called the Sunset Plaza, which is pretty boring--a poor man's Rodeo Drive. Then you get to the rock club section of the Strip, home to the original Tower Records, Book Soup (the only independent bookstore for miles), the Viper Room (formerly owned by Johnny Depp, and the scene of River Phoenix's overdose), the Whisky (Jimi Hendrix used to live in the apartment above), the Roxy, the Rainbow Room, Shamrock Tattoos, the Key Club, and finally you are spilled out into Beverly Hills.

It's a strange place, the Sunset Strip. It's been a bastion of excess since the 1920s, when it was an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County that therefore was not policed by the LAPD. It became part of West Hollywood in 1985, and has been considerably cleaned up. No more prostitutes, and the drugs available for sale are now fancy party drugs instead of heroin and crack. And the really fancy celebrity party scene has mostly moved east to Hollywood.

But it is still an alluring place, and I never get tired of walking it.

The Cruelest Cut

So, tonight I went to go see the new Terry Zwigoff film, Art School Confidential. (quick review: thumbs way down). Before the movie, there was a preview for some dreadful-looking movie called Peaceful Warrior.

The preview showed several scenes that were clearly filmed at UCLA. This is not an unusual occurrence, of course. Practically every university you see in a movie is either UCLA or USC. In fact, there were a number of scenes in Art School Confidential that were filmed in the patio outside of the graduate student library here--it's a little jarring to see a movie pretend that the spot where you eat lunch every single day is a parking lot. But you get used to that after awhile. My favorite such moment was in that horrible Katie Homes movie First Daughter, which had the pre-Cruised Katie living in a dorm that is actually the student government building. And there was the Gilmore Girls episode that tried to pretend UCLA was Harvard. (Not an easy task.)

So anyways, I can understand that movie people use UCLA to represent lots of different universities. However, in this preview for Peaceful Warrior, they had to gall to pretend that UCLA was UC Berkeley. And it wasn't just inference--they literally added a computer-generated campanile to the background of a scene shot in front of UCLA's library!

The nerve, I tell you.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Love Letter to Pablo

Instead of writing my imminently-due dissertation proposal, I've been taking pictures of kittens all evening. Carlos is very photogenic, but it is really hard to get a decent shot of Pablo. He has this slightly odd fur that is very thin. So when the flash lights him up, you can kind of see his skin underneath, and he looks a little strange and spooky. So, apologies for the darkness, but this photo I think gives a reasonable approximation of just how darn cute Pablo is. Look at the little white paws! Look at his white moustache! Look at his charming pink collar that is still too big for him!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Fortune Smiles

Miraculously, I passed my Spanish exam today!

Name That Genre

I spent this evening preparing for a re-take of my Spanish exam (tomorrow morning, wish me luck!), but also doing some preparation for a lecture I am doing next week. The class is "Music and Gender," and my contribution is discussing the post-WWII woman singers that I study, people like Doris Day, Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee, and so on. This is a repertoire I really like, and a good change of pace for me--unlike John Cage, this is stuff I can sing along to while driving to school.

I have this problem though. I never have any idea what to call this music. Above, when describing it, I gave the time period (post-WWII), the gender (women), and the fact that they were solo singers, but that description doesn't actually tell you anything about the genre and style of this music. And this isn't just a problem I am having, this is actually a problem with the way everyone discusses popular music of the second-half of the twentieth-century. What exactly do we call the style of music that was immensely popular in this country from about 1945 until rock n' roll hit in 1954?

Quick history lesson: Most jazz historians will tell you that during World War II, the great swing bands of the 1930s all shut down for lack of money and personnel. So when people trickled back into the country and the record industry began producing again in 1945, the participants in those swing bands went in three different directions:

1) a small number of instrumentalists started jamming at afterhours clubs in New York City, and produced a virtuosic and rarefied modernist style of jazz that came to be called be-bop.

2) a larger number of instrumentalists simply joined bands that were smaller and more stripped down than the big swing bands of yore. This gave a sound that was a bit more energetic and rawer. Instead of having a section of saxophones, you might just have one sax player, who would play loud and hard. This style becomes known as "jump blues," and is ultimately the music that becomes rock n' roll. Most people now would listen to this and think it just sounds like early rock n' roll. The only difference between this stuff and say, Bill Haley, is that the jump blues musicians were all black, and the music circulated in subcultural urban African-American communities, rather than in the white mainstream.

3) Back in the day, these big swing bands, like those lead by Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, and so on, all had vocalists. But they weren't the star of the show, and they tended not to sing songs that were focused solely on the singer. Rather, they would play long numbers, and the vocalist might join in for a verse or two. Doris Day's "Sentimental Journey" is an excellent example of this. Doris was just an unknown vocalist with the Les Brown Orchestra in the 1940s. Although most people now associate this song very strongly with her, if you listen to it now, you'll be amazed at how little she actually sings, and how most of the song is actually instrumental.

After World War II, the most popular style of music actually comes when all of these vocalists from the big bands strike out on their own. Obviously solo singers have been around forever (Bing Crosby, for example), but after the war music by famous vocalists becomes completely dominant on the pop charts, and stays there for decades.

This post is getting way too long, but again, I point out: what do we call this music? It isn't swing. Many of them called themselves just generic jazz, but importantly, many of them did not, especially the women singers. "Pop" works, but is way too vague. Today in the record store it usually gets classified under "Vocal," but that is also pretty vague.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Pablo and Carlos

We have cats!

This picture is of Carlos. His friend Pablo is black with white feet and tummy, but is being a little shy for the camera at the moment. Pablo came with his name, and we liked it enough to keep it. Carlos came unnamed, but during the car ride home he both tried desperately to escape from his box, and meowed constantly and stridently. So we realized that a good source of names might be revolutionary leaders. We considered Che, Fidel, Zapata, Raoul (Fidel's brother), and so on, but eventually settled on Karl, as in Marx. Then of course it had to be Hispanicized to match his brother, and voila!

They came from a rescue group in Santa Monica. Luckily for us they were very laidback--many of these groups do home visits and reference checks. We had to fill out a hefty form, and put down a deposit to ensure they get neutered, but they let us take the cats right home, which is nice.

And they are pretty darn cute.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


A thousand pardons for how boring this blog has become. I'm really quite embarrassed by it. One of my colleagues at school has a blog that she updates almost every day, and it is a beautifully written jewel of a blog. (I'm not going to link to it, to preserve some semblance of anonymity.) I have no hope of reaching that level, either of regularity or of writing.

But I want to break my radio silence to announce that this weekend, my roommate and I are going to inquire about adopting a cat! Yay!

With any luck, this blog will soon become filled with endless pictures of cat.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

More Memory Is Required to Complete this Operation

Why is this blog suddenly going into hiatus mode? Beause this week, my brain is struggling to juggle: (1) a two-day academic conference I am organizing this weekend, (2) the launch of a new issue of the journal I edit, possibly also this weekend, (3) my dissertation proposal kind of needs to be absolutely done by next week, (4) I'm still, you know, taking a class that has homework and stuff. And TAing.

You know when you have a lot of programs running on your computer, and there isn't enough RAM, and things start to slow down a bit? Yeah, that's me.

End of whining.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Schoenberg est vivant

Amused by Alex Ross's recent post about Arnold Schoenberg's car troubles in 1934, I poked around the Schoenberg center's web site, and found that they offer Schoenberg t-shirts for sale. For only 6.50 euros, you can get a shirt with the maestro's head on it, or even one that reads, "Der Mittelweg ist der einzige Weg, der nicht nach Rom führt." (My German is pretty bad, but I think this is Arnie's famous quote that "The middle road is the only one that does not lead to Rome.")

The Schoenberg Center, incidentally, used to be located here in Los Angeles, in a special purpose-built location on the USC campus. Then the money-grubbing Schoenberg heirs got into a financial dispute with USC, and took all of the materials back to Vienna. They are a rough group, those Schoenbergs. At UCLA, the music building is called Schoenberg Hall. Supposedly, a few years back the music department got a big donation to refurbish the main concert hall in the building, but ended up having to reject the donation because the Schoenberg heirs wouldn't let them rename the hall--not the entire building, mind you, just the name of one of the two concert halls inside.

Considering that John Cage, LaMonte Young, and Harry Partch all had important and more appreciative experiences at UCLA as well, I think we should rename the building after one of them.

Blogging Notes

Traffic to my blog has spiked recently. This is partly due to the fact that I re-informed many of my colleagues of its existence, and also due to the fact that Mary emailed one of my posts to a bunch of her relatives. But examining my site traffic meter some more, I realized that in fact, most of my recent visitors are drawn to this blog by the siren call of Jake Gyllenhaal. Thanks to the power of search engines like google, a search for the name "Jake Gyllenhaal" will bring up my blog.* Not as the first hit or anything, but still, high enough up at the moment that a small trickle of people come by every day, looking for info about Jake. It makes me wonder how much traffic I would get if, hypothetically speaking, I had a phrase like "naked pictures of Britney Spears" in my blog. Oops! Guess we'll see!

On another note, I have decided that I need a better pseudonym to sign my posts with, as, well, my initials are not exactly the most anonymous things in the world. It's not that this blog is anonymous, as I talk quite freely about who I am and what I do. I do, however, attempt to make it slightly difficult to find this blog through google by not actually referring to my name or to the full names of others. So I'm thinking maybe I should ditch my initials.

Suggestions for a different handle are welcome.

*a technical note: the site meter I use let's me see by what page people link to my blog. Therefore, if somebody comes from a Google search, I can see what the search was. I can also see people's IP addresses, and when they visit. With my limited traffic, that means I can pretty accurately identify almost all of my visitors. The .edu address in Evanston is easily traceable (Hi, Susan!), as is the Durham, NC visitor. (Hi, Grandma!) Knowing all of this makes me feel slightly stalker-ish, but then, it is my blog.

Friday, May 05, 2006

He's too pretty to have privacy

Our sighting of Jake Gyllenhaal made it into this week's Defamer Hollywood Privacy Watch, Treo'd to them by my friend less than five minutes after it happened. Too bad they censored his license plate number.

What would we do without the internet?

Uh Oh

The Guardian just had a little feature on travel spots in the U.K. They also had a list of "Five Places to Avoid," of which #1 was London. I quote:

All year round, it is the European capital with the worst cuisine, worst traffic, highest prices and most unwelcoming natives, as well as being burdened with a service industry that has only the most tenuous connection with the concept of service or, indeed, industry. Don't go there. If you hanker after the London experience, sit in a bathful of your own sweat in a room full of exhaust fumes and pale sneering people in shorts, and burn twenties with a lighter.