Before they were Sparks, brothers Ron and Russell Mael were teenagers growing up in Pacific Palisades. More than the sunbeams, they bathed in the sound waves of the mid-to-late Sixties’ rock product, nourishing themselves on the transcendent and the trash alike. A decade later, after Sparks had achieved champion status on the international rock market, Russell Mael went on the radio to play his favorite songs from that period and talk about his LA adolescence.
The broadcast is about two hours long. According to the blog stranger than known, where I came across this remarkable recording, it’s a tape of Russell Mael’s appearance on BBC Radio 1 around November 1979. If the date’s correct, Mael would have been promoting Sparks’ collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, No. 1 in Heaven.
Mael sets up each song with a cultural observation, bit of rock lore, or a memory: seeing the Doors at local dances, auditioning bass players for garage bands with the ascending line from “Hey Joe,” driving up to San Francisco to see Moby Grape, watching surfers put lemon juice in their hair, playing the “Louie Louie” single at 33⅓ rpm in the hope of hearing a secret, lewd message, and so on.
In the early 1990’s a 22-year old surfer kid from Newport Beach hit the L.A. music scene and turned it inside out. Rex Kingsley Thompson (nickname: “Tatarex”) was a thin, cool, attractive, 6’4” tall creation that looked like he had just arrived in a time machine. His band The Summer Hits released a handful of singles between 1992-1996 and were played on BBC Radio 1 by legendary deejay John Peel. Then like a flash, Rex left southern California for Europe without a penny in his pocket where he spent twelve years exploring chic, tropical islands and castles with beautiful women of royalty. Last week the news of Rex’s passing at the age of 47 hit the internet and saddened thousands of friends and followers who recount his super unconventional lifestyle and profound cult-like influence on people everywhere he went.
Known around skateboard parks for always drinking pink lemonade, Tatarex was also somewhat of a local at “The Wedge” in Orange County, a surfing spot just off the end of the Balboa Peninsula popular for its big waves and laid-back lifestyle. As a mohawked youth back in Glendora, Rex had originally intended to be a tennis player but once he hit his 20’s and left home he began shifting his focus towards other interests such as fashion, the beach, music, and recreational drug use. “He walked around like he was this psychedelic blue blood sometimes. You know what I mean? Because he was always asking everybody about their fashion, and clothes, and hygiene, and appearance. He didn’t judge you he would just kind of point people in the direction of the finer things in life. Not just expensive things, but the things that make you live free and think that you can really enjoy life” says longtime friend Brent Rademaker.
Rex drove around in a Volkswagon bus he called “Peanut” searching local vintage stores for groovy clothes and groovy records. Brent recalls the modes of communication before cell phones existed: “He worked at the Newport Classic Inn, I’d call him there. The only way to get in touch with him would be to call him at work. He’d answer the phone ‘Good afternoon the Newport Classic Inn Hotel this is Rex speaking’ It was kind of like the thing in Quadrophenia when the Ace Face gets outed as a bellboy. I even went down there and Rex is dressed in a button-down shirt with a tie. Darren and I came from Florida and Rex really lived all things west coast and lived all things southern California. He made us honorary Californians and he didn’t treat us as outsiders.”
The Summer Hits, mid-‘90s collage courtesy of Brent Rademaker
With no prior musical experience or training, Rex picked up a left-handed bass and taught himself to play. After his first band fell apart (a C86 influenced local group called Speed Racer) Rex formed The Summer Hits by recruiting friends Darren Rademaker and Josh Schwartz (of the lo-fi “indie rock” band Further). They released a handful of 7"s on labels such as Small-Fi, Volvolo, Silver Girl, and 1000 Guitar Mania. Rex’s unique singing voice on the 8-track recordings was nearly drowned out by a wall of fuzz and feedback, with lyrics that reflected all of his most favorite things: summer, the beach, drugs, listening to music, girls, runnin’ from the fuzz, and retreating into the desert night.
In 1997 the year following the band’s split, Brent issued The Summer Hits compilation CD on his own label Xmas Records. “I took every dime I had to put that Beaches and Canyons CD together. I found all the comp tracks and all the singles and all the tapes and I took them down to Capitol (Records) tower and mastered them. The guy looked at me like I was insane when it came on. You know? And I’m like ‘Can you add even more fuzz?’ and he’s like ‘What?! I can’t clean these up,’ I said ‘I don’t want you to clean them up, I want you to make them dirtier.’”
Besides being the life of the party and a psychedelic social butterfly, Rex Thompson had been making amazing mixtapes which were then duplicated and passed down by friends and friends of friends. The more tapes Rex made the deeper the tracks got and the more extensive his handwritten linear notes became. One tape of Rex’s in particular titled Find the Sun really stood out amongst his circle of friends and focused on recordings from 1966-1973 by groups all over the world experimenting with the “west coast sound.” Rex’s personal description of the tape was “Magic hippie vibes for lost cosmic children with countrified brains.” Brent recalls, “It had a great title and it was full of obscure, beautiful, beautiful groups. One day Chris Gunst, Josh Schwartz, and I were listening to that tape and one of us just said ‘We can make a group that sounds like this.’ Slowly our clothes started changing, next thing Chris was wearing cowboy western shirts.” L.A. supergroup Beachwood Sparks was formed, they had a successful career on Sub Pop Records and were later featured on the soundtrack to the 2010 cult classic Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. “We wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for that tape and Rex’s influence.”
“Find the Sun” mixtape linear notes courtesy of Maura Klosterman
“Another thing that speaks so highly of Rex, the linear notes on his tapes are so in depth. And I’m not saying that the pre-internet world didn’t learn or share knowledge or do research. But at what he had at his disposal he really went in depth and he knew what he was talking about when he was talking about country rock, psych, folk, west coast garage, fuzz. Whatever it was, he knew it.”
A vintage shot of LA icon Angelyne and her life-sized Barbie car, a pink Chevrolet Corvette.
According a listing on eBay platinum-haired goddess of self-promotion Angelyne (the real star of Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise in her role as the uncredited “auditioning singer”) has put her pink Corvette (one of at least ten Corvette’s that Angelyne has owned throughout her reign as the undisputed billboard queen of Los Angeles) up for auction.
The sweet ride comes with a removable top (because, of course it does) and Angelyne herself will even sign this hot pink rocket for the winning bidder. Here’s Angelyne talking about her love of all things pink and the aquisition of her ninth Corvette back in 2014:
I got my first one in the mid-eighties. This is my ninth one, and I’m going to get my tenth next year. I had a special paint made for me. It has a formula that is very hard to get because it uses a toner that they don’t make anymore.
Right now the bidding for the ultimate adult-sized Barbie mobile is at $12,111.00 and according to the listing the reserve has still not been met.
More images of the infamous LA blonde and one of her equally famous pink cars follow after the jump…
“We Destroy the Family: Punks vs Parent,” is a 1982 report from LA’s KABC, and it is fantastic vintage moral panic. The segment opens with a Fear show, and in case viewers couldn’t make out the lyrics to “We Destroy the Family,” Lee Ving laughingly provides a spoken-word clarification of the refrain—has he no decency?!? One can assume from the narrator’s serious tone that the viewers are expected to take the threat of punk to the family, very, very seriously, while completely disregarding the fact that hippies (and likely some of these kids’ parents) were expressing similar disdain for the status quo just a few short years prior (albeit on different drugs).
It’s interesting that punk scare-mongering like this and the infamous ABC Afterschool Special “The Day My Kid Went Punk” were aired in the 80s—the latter as late as 1987! This is well past the initial punk explosion, but it coincides with the scene’s rebirth as hardcore in the “respectable” suburbs. The resulting cultural anxieties produced Tipper Gore’s busybody committee, the “Parents Music Resource Group” in 1985, who pushed for censorship on the Senate floor at the same time Jello Biafra was being tried on obscenity charges for an H.R. Giger album insert poster. Watching a ludicrous interview with square parents and their gum-chewing punk kids in “We Destroy the Family,” it’s actually kind of tragic how the obvious disaffection and alienation of the era’s youth went ignored as their artistic outlets were attacked.
It’s obscene how we take technology for granted. The Internet is the greatest communication tool since the written word, and what do I do with it? I (expertly) evaluate dick jokes for wage labor, and look at videos of cats soothing babies to alleviate my Seasonal Affective Disorder. We’ve not always been so cynical though.
Artists Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz created an installation called “Hole in Space” in 1980. Utilizing cutting edge satellite technology, life-sized audio-visual transmissions were displayed in real-time between New York’s Lincoln Center and an open air shopping mall in Century City, Los Angeles. Not only was the installation setup utilizing technology few had ever seen (much less used), no explanation was given for what was transpiring and no sponsors or artists were credited—it was sort of a huge, impromptu guerrilla video-chat.
Unlike say, a Google Hangout or Skype chat, participants in the piece (who were completely random passers-by), had no “video reflection” of themselves—they couldn’t see their own transmission as the other line did, because there was no extra window mirroring them. This made for a completely organic, unselfconscious moment of communication. The piece ran in two hour increments, for three days (November 11, 13 and 14) and as news of the public-space, bicoastal party line spread, the crowds grew.
The video below is taken from those impromptu interactions between New York and LA, and it’s absolutely amazing. Viewers/communicators are so shocked and delighted by such a seamless connectivity across the country—it’s an incredibly moving thing to witness. I can’t actually think of a time in my entire adult life where I’ve been as surprised or affected by technology as these people were—much less in public.
Yesterday on the “Walk of Fame” near the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd in Los Angeles, a man armed with an iron pipe was caught on video yelling “I love Jesus” as he smashed out the windows of a parked LAPD patrol car, before stealing the cops’ laptop! Then he just walked a few feet away and started using it!
Even better? A Darth Vader impersonator watched as a KTLA news crew captured the scene. Additionally, a man dressed as Superman remarked “I saw the whole thing. It’s not my job to jump in the middle.”
Only in LA, kids, only in LA…
[The video autoplays, so I’m tucking it after the jump.]
Call the National Guard! Call FEMA! It’s raining in Los Angeles everybody!!!
I live in Los Angeles. It rained (not heavily) for about five hours. This reminds me of when I lived in Cincinnati, OH, and everytime there was a possibility of snow—even for a freakin’ flurry—the news would call it “White Death.”
I love “futurism” but I like it even better when it’s being seen in the rear view mirror. That’s when it gets really interesting for me.
A few years back I re-read most of the 70s and 80s books by Alvin Toffler, futurist author of such best-selling and influential works hailing “the shape of things to come” as Future Shock, The Third Wave and Power Shift. It’s simply amazing how right on the money Toffler was (for the most part) and his classic, now literally decades out-of-date books are still just as much fun to read to see what he got wrong, as much to see what he got right, and why.
In 1988, The Los Angeles Times Magazine published an ambitious, 16 page cover story written by Nicole Yorkin that drew from interviews she had conducted with a few dozen futurists trying to project how people would live in Los Angeles in the year 2013. They got the great Syd Mead, the “visual futurist” and conceptual artist behind Aliens, Blade Runner and Tron—an inspired choice—to illustrate it.
Lockenour provided his 25 students with electronic copies of the magazine and they divvied up the articles to determine which of the 1988 predictions came true. To their surprise, the students — some of whom weren’t even born when Yorkin’s look into the future was published — found that many predictions have become reality.
Yorkin’s experts had foreseen smart cars that would drive themselves by 2013. The luxury cars that she wrote about zipping eastbound in the 118 Freeway’s “electro lanes” were outfitted with “inductive couplers” — something that isn’t on the market yet. But the technology exists: Google engineers are testing driverless cars that are equipped with a laser radar system.
“You find some cars that will help park themselves now, so parts of it have already happened,” said Mohammadali Parsian, a 23-year-old USC student from Iran. “Electro lanes? It makes sense…. It takes 25 or 30 years for new things to come into place.”
Classmate Chiraag Dodhia, 24, of Kenya, was also startled by how many of the 1988 transportation predictions were on target. “Things like every car will have computers. Back then it wasn’t common for cars to have diagnostic features and low tire-pressure alarms,” he said.
Other things forecast by the magazine — magnetic induction that lifts cars off the road, car computers that talk to other cars’ computers — may be on the horizon, Dodhia said.
The 1988 forecasts saw a high-tech revolution occurring in public schools by 2013. There would be neighborhood satellite campuses of about 300 pupils with high-resolution computer screens for walls and ceilings. Desks would have built-in computers operated by smart cards.
“Her prediction was not that far off,” said graduate student Nikolaos Vagias, 26, of Greece. “We don’t have smart cards, but we have smartphones and tablets with all these applications. Just like the article said, the price of computers is going down so every kid can afford one.”
Hitendra Mistry, a 25-year-old student from India, noted that even Lockenour’s course is live-streamed to students elsewhere through USC’s Distance Educational Network.
Walter Glaeser, a 50-year-old Boeing systems engineer who lives in St. Louis, is one of nine students taking the class through the network. Some of the magazine’s predictions were far-fetched, he said, but then again, “I’ve never actually met any of my USC professors face to face in the time I’ve been pursuing my master’s degree.”
Some of the original 1988 article is a little locally focused to be of much interest to non Los Angelenos, but man, oh man is it fascinating to those of us who live here to see how much of if they—especially Syd Mead, who once called science fiction “reality ahead of schedule”—got right. If the image on the cover didn’t predict today’s gleaming, overly-developed area near the Staples Center in downtown LA with eerie prescience—downtown was exactly like Mad Max back in 1988, one of the worst, most insane skidrow areas in all of America—then I don’t know what would have!
Ironically, it was the Los Angeles Times Magazine itself that didn’t make it to 2013, as the magazine was shuttered in 2012.
At one time she was impossible not to notice around the City of Angels: Angelyne the billboard queen, famous for being, uh, “famous” and for having large outdoor billboards of herself plastered all over Los Angeles (Her billboards quasi-qualified as LA “landmarks” just like smog, the Hollywood sign or palm trees; one of them even made the opening montage of Moonlighting, something later parodied in the Futurama credits). For decades she has been a well-known sight, driving around town, as she still does, in her shocking pink Stingray Corvette. She sells Angelyne tee-shirts and merchandise from the trunk of her car.
Although she seemed to have no talent, no real career and no visible means of support, there were rumors for years—Angelyne is notoriously tight-lipped about her “mystique”—that her boyfriend owned the outdoor advertising company that festooned her doughy features across Los Angeles County. Angelyne would say only that she had “investors.” Her signs were everywhere. In 1996, the height of it, probably, I counted fifteen large ones, some of them in prime places—such as Hollywood Blvd and overlooking the 101 freeway near Universal, the very same location that inexplicably kept up a sign for Terminator III: Rise of the Machines before, during and even after the Governator’s term in office—but the LA Times estimated that there were as many as 300 including bus shelter ads. I’d guess that the total cost per year was well in excess of a million dollars. These days there aren’t any that I am aware of, although a new one popped up briefly when they were shooting the Tom Cruise movie Rock of Ages.
Angelyne seems to be a loopy sort of gal. In 2001, I wanted to do a TV piece about Angelyne for UK TV (she had an art show at the time that consisted entirely of self-portraits) but she demanded a ridiculous amount of money per minute—it wasn’t even a round number, something weird like $2242.00 per half-hour—and she just would not budge (I’ve read of producers going up against this same issue, but getting her to finally agree to an interview for $20 worth of candy).
I’m pretty sure that her album came out in 1984. I wanted to post this one a while ago, but all of the versions I could find online were pretty ratty. Here, at long last(?) is Angelyne’s “My List”:
Get a look inside of Angelyne’s tastefully appointed pink Malibu condo: Angelyne the Billboard Queen Sellin’ Short in the ‘Bu (Realestalker)
Mark first met “The Rat” while he was working on one of his books:
‘While researching Six Degrees of Paris Hilton, from out of the blue I received an email from someone claiming that he knew more about one of the criminals I was writing about than anyone. Intrigued, I phoned him, and soon realized that it was HIS story I wanted to tell…
‘“The Rat” and I have remained friends through the years, and I trust him with my life. Once, when I had to confront a pair of Russian mobsters operating out of a pawn shop front, The Rat flew down from Seattle to simply stand behind me and look intimidating. Only a true friend would do something like that.’
Mark also tells Dangerous Minds that “The Rat” will be going public this Thursday, when he will reveal his true identity for the first time on camera.
Here is an extract from Mark’s article on “The Rat”:
The first sign that something was wrong was when a car followed him onto his street – a one-way cul-de-sac at the top of Nichols Canyon in the Hollywood Hills where the mansions start at a million dollars. He was driving back from Bad Boys Bail Bonds, where he’d just dropped three grand to spring one of his drivers who had gotten popped in Santa Monica on a routine haul. Earlier in the day, he had pulled off the kind of transaction that some dealers go their whole lives without seeing – 300 pounds of primo weed for $1 million, which had netted him a cool $90,000 for two hours work. His senses heightened, he could feel the vibe going sour as he steered his discreet rental car past his own driveway. Another 60 feet, and suddenly there were searchlights washing every street corner – at least 30 undercover police cars – with a helicopter swooping down on top of him in case he decided to make a run for it down the open cliff face.
“I hadn’t done a deal in six months,” says Oz (most names in this story have been changed), a 48-year-old ex-marijuana trafficker and big-time baller who once dominated the I-5 corridor from British Columbia to Tijuana, was responsible for 70 percent of the marijuana smoked in Los Angeles and saw $4 million move through his operation every two weeks. “They take me inside – they’re stripping the house, and here’s my $90,000 all out on the table. I said, ‘Dude, just shoot me now. I don’t blame you guys, but I’m not going to rat on any of my people, so I’d prefer to be dead.’ The Fed says, ‘No, man, I can’t do that. But we need to talk.’”
Cruising through the Hills in a tricked-out Lincoln Navigator, on loan from a fellow drug runner who got out of the game when he found religion, Oz can’t help but point the sites of his former glory: The Russian tanning salon in Hollywood where you could order up Vicodin or steroids on demand; the Melrose Avenue tattoo shop that moves 50 to a hundred pounds of weed a week; the Mexican restaurant that serves up kilos of coke with its carne asada. But he is less expansive when describing his life since the 2004 bust that curtailed his hand-built empire – and his uneasy resurrection as an undercover informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency. In the world he lived in for over 20 years, the worst thing you could be was a rat – a turnabout of fate that obviously weighs heavy on him. In the past three years, Oz has survived three suicide attempts – not counting his choice of livelihood.
Still retaining the hard angles and displaced muscle mass from his early years as a bodybuilder and protracted steroid enthusiast, Oz today most resembles Arnold Schwarzenegger if you put him through a threshing machine and then tried to spot-weld the bigger pieces back together. He’s had his bicep torn off from trying to break a guy’s neck in a bar, all his teeth are capped from being broken off in fights and he’s literally got screws in his head to hold his skull in place. He earned the sometimes nickname “Shrek” from taking so many punches to the face that his eyebrows calcified into scar tissue, leaving a large protruding ridge in his forehead. And in the kind of colorful anecdote that no doubt made it easier for him to do his job, he once bit his best friend’s ear off in the back seat of a limo.
“I have a short man’s complex,” admits the 5’8, 220-pound brawler, still capable of flashes of intense anger and pervasive menace, as well as intense emotion over the secondary victims of his chosen lifestyle. “I realized at one point that most people were my friends because they were scared of me. I’ve never killed anybody, but I’ve hurt a lot of people – and every one of them deserved it.”
The sign in the 1970s, during a particularly shaggy time
I have always found the Hollywood sign to be charmingly anachronistic— a dated landmark, but delightfully so. Built in 1923 to promote a housing development (originally “Hollywoodland”), the sign has gone through various stages of disrepair and restoration over the years. It was even defaced as “Hollyweed” a few years after the decriminalization of marijuana in California.
Seeing this much work go into something that was never intended to be permanent seems to go against the impression I have of Los Angeles as a high turnover city, dismissive of its own history; it’s oddly comforting to see this kind of effort go into its preservation.
A young Tony Scott stars in his brother Ridley’s first film Boy and Bicycle.
This was the film that inspired Tony to make movies, and it’s a long way from the loud, brash, stadium rock ‘n’ roll films he became famous for in later life.
Tony Scott had considerable skill as film-maker. He was great at large scale, set-piece action scenes, which he manipulated with the ease of a master conjuror. He was more than capable at getting strong performances from his cast, even when characterization was flimsy. And interestingly, his films brought together the most unlikely groups of fans - the Goths of The Hunger, the jocks of Top Gun, the Hip of True Romance, and the Geeks of Enemy of the State. I always thought he should have made a Batman or a Spiderman, or teamed-up again with Tarantino.
The news of his death was shocking, but the manner in which he chose to die had something terribly dramatic about it - his fall from the Vincent Thomas Bridge was witnessed by on-lookers and even filmed.
Tony Scott will be remembered for those populist, large scale movies that captured the audience’s imagination, while at the same time reflecting the cultural ambition, fantasies and fashions of their decade.
The Institute of Oral Love was situated on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Spaulding Avenue, and this photograph was taken in 1976, as part of an article on LA’s growing porn scene.
Though there has been the bizarre suggestion this was a dentist and oral surgeon, as well as the more obvious belief it was “blow job central”, the Oral Institute of Love was, I am reliably informed by the lovelies over at World of Wonder, not exactly what it seemed, as it mainly “dispensed talk”.