Sheila Weller takes us back to the 1960s, where a tiny cult of personality born in the early days of California’s surfing craze became a plunge into dysfunction and criminality.
Juicy reading, regardless of whether you grew up in that era, especially if you knew or were a part of the surf culture yourself growing up (as were many of us who went to high school within an hour’s drive of a SoCal beach.)
Garth Trinidad, a DJ at Santa Monica public radio station KCRW, has put together a playlist in remembrance of the 1992 riots. It’s a fascinating list, but the funny thing is that I remember playing none of these during those days.
I’m thinking about putting together my own April 1992 playlist. Let me know if you have one to share.
If the history of California proves anything, there is nothing with greater potential to amaze and titillate than a fringe group with a lump of cash and a real estate broker.
A group of Silvershirts, aided by a German agent and with the complicity of mining heiress Jessie Murphy, purchased a 55-acre ranch in the Santa Monica mountains and proceeded to invest today’s equivalent of US$66 million fitting it out as Kehlsteinhaus West.
The ruin is about to be put to the bulldozer to make the area a park, but I hope they at least put a plaque in place, if nothing else to serve as a marker for the high-water point in Nazi ambition.
In an engrossing time-capsule of writing,Vanity Fairoffers us James M. Cain‘s August 1933 article of the birth of Malibu and the early stages of its development as a suburb of Hollywood.
The article came out before the novels (The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, Double Indemnity)for which Cain’s name would enter the American canon. As a literary curiosity it is an example of some of Cain’s best journalism, and as history it provides a snapshot of the L.A. Gold Coast uncluttered by what it later became.
There is something soulful about a lighthouse, standing as a sentinel to guide lost ships in search of refuge or in avoidance of danger. Even today, when lighthouses seem supplanted by such innovations as GPS and satellite navigation, the now-automated lights are a reminder that there are still those on the sea counting on seemingly outmoded implements to find their way on the water.
California is blessed with some of the most beautiful lighthouses in the world, and most of them have both significant history and pleasing architecture. It is a testament to the nation that we put so much thought and care into the design and upkeep of whate are, basically, maritime aids to navigation. In some sense, then, lighthouses are baubles in America’s love affair with the sea.
Our local favorite here on the Strawberry Coast is the Port Hueneme (wah-NEE-mee) lighthouse, the now-automated sentinel that marks the entrance to Southern California’s other other deepwater port. The structure itself is a nicely done example of the Art Deco Moderne style that characterized so many of the public structures built in the early 20th Century in Southern California. Volunteers of the Coast Guard Auxiliary have created a little museum at the base of the light, and it is open to the public from 10-3 on the third Saturday of each month. The link above will give you the details.
If you are in the area, it is worth a trip, and if you combine it with breakfast at Mrs. Olsen’s Coffee Hut nearby, you’ve got a superb beginning to a summer Saturday, even if Coastal Eddy is having his way with the weather.
One of the great blessings of American literature is that, unlike that of many less diverse nations and cultures, ours benefits from the inspiration offered in the geographic diversity of the land. It is sad, therefore, that so many intelligent champions of American letters would prefer that we have but a single literary Mecca. A nation can only have one intellectual capital. As France has Paris, so must America have New York. To defend such a proposition, and perhaps to justify living in a city that is as likely to brutalize an author as it is to celebrate him or her, some of New York’s most ardent boosters go to great pains to make the case that for the writer or the book-minded, there is no place to be but New York City.
In an article entitled “City Lights,” writer and biographer Stefan Kanfer offers us a notable example of such Metropolitan hyperbole. To support his point, he gives endless examples of writers from Washington Irving to Jonathan Franzen who have made New York their home.
Kanfer is most loquacious when answering the infidel literati who rejected the Big Apple:
Ernest Hemingway found the literary city repulsive; in Green Hills of Africa, he called New York writers “angleworms in a bottle.” And H. L. Mencken demanded, “Have you ever noticed that no American writer of any consequence lives in Manhattan? Dreiser tried it (after many years in the Bronx), but finally fled to California.”
Mencken, notorious for his contrarian screeds, was wrong. So was Hemingway. In addition to Singer, five recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature have found New York’s attractions too powerful to resist: Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow, and Toni Morrison. Philip Roth and John Updike took apartments there; Norman Mailer never left town. Along the way, The New Yorker stopped being quite so closed and began to publish the likes of J. D. Salinger, Ursula K. Le Guin, Alice Munro, and Vladimir Nabokov.
This is exactly the kind of defensive self-justification cum effusive self-congratulation for which New York must own the patent given its frequent use by the city’s fanboyim. A steady flow of this tiresome spew has poured from the pens, typewriters, and laptops of Gotham for over a century, and the sole effect outside of New Amsterdam’s legion of besotted admirers has been a roll of the eyes and a turn of the page.
I submit that there are far simpler and less mystical reasons for New York’s role as a literary gravity-well than Mr. Kanfer’s pean would seem to suggest. Those include:
New York is where the publishers are, and most writers find it convenient to be near the largest critical mass of markets for their work, whether they want to be there or not. One of Kanfer’s Nobel Laureates, Toni Morrison, came to New York to be an editor in a publishing house, not because of some mystic magnet.
Writing is a lonely profession, and the proximity of a sympathetic support group of peers, both more and less talented, is a comfort to all, especially the struggling and the poseurs, (the latter whom find it much easier to justify their unpublished status to their loved ones and themselves because at least they are in the center of the action.)
New York is home to an overlarge community of grossly wealthy idle and nouveau riche, especially from among the financial community, who patronize the belles letters as a means of embellishing their unearned or under earned lucre with a patina of culture.
Writers are celebrated, tolerated, and venerated in New York like nowhere else on the planet. Such ego infusions are heady, addictive stuff.
Hardly the stuff of impassioned tributes, I know, but without doubt more reflective of some basic truths that reflect the uglier side of the vocation of letters.
As for me, I side with Mencken, Hemingway, Drieser, Hunter Thompson, Raymond Chandler, and all of the others who had the fortitude and dignity to ply their craft far from the shores of the Hudson. How much greater the triumph of a writer laboring without the support of editors, agents, patrons, and fellows in close proximity.
And, for the record, New York has no especial claim on Nobel Laureates in Literature: Steinbeck did his best work in California, Lewis in Washington, DC, Bellow in the Midwest and Boston; Hemingway, Pearl Buck and Joseph Brodsky avoided the place.
The truth is, America is blessed to have a geographically diverse literary tradition, so much so that one could almost make a lifetime study of the literature of New England (less New York City), of the South, of the West, and California.
Dismount your horses, Tribunes of Gotham. You are all wonderful and do great work. To pretend that literature begins and ends in your precincts does an injustice to literature and an injustice to New York.