Watch Randy Newman’s Tour of Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard, and You’ll Love L.A. Too

"The longer I live here," a Los Angeles-based friend recently said, "the more 'I Love L.A.' sounds like an unironic tribute to this city." That hit single by Randy Newman, a singer-songwriter not known for his simple earnestness, has produced a multiplicity of interpretations since it came out in 1983, the year before Los Angeles presented a sunny, colorful, forward-looking image to the world as the host of the Summer Olympic Games. Listeners still wonder now what they wondered back then: when Newman sings the praises — literally — of the likes of Imperial Highway, a "big nasty redhead," Century Boulevard, the Santa Ana winds, and bums on their knees, does he mean it?

"I Love L.A."'s both smirking and enthusiastic music video offers a view of Newman's 1980s Los Angeles, but fifteen years later, he starred in an episode of the public television series Great Streets that presents a slightly more up-to-date, and much more nuanced, picture of the city. In it, the native Angeleno looks at his birthplace through the lens of the 27-mile Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles' most famous street — or, in his own words, "one of those places the movies would've had to invent, if it didn't already exist."




Historian Leonard Pitt (who appears alongside figures like filmmaker Allison Anders, artist Ed Ruscha, and Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek) describes Sunset as the one place along which you can see "every stratum of Los Angeles in the shortest period of time." Or as Newman puts it, "Like a lot of the people who live here, Sunset is humble and hard-working at the beginning," on its inland end. "Go further and it gets a little self-indulgent and outrageous" before it "straightens itself out and grows rich, fat, and respectable." At its coastal end "it gets real twisted, so there's nothing left to do but jump into the Pacific Ocean."

Newman's westward journey, made in an open-topped convertible (albeit not "I Love L.A."'s 1955 Buick) takes him from Union Station (America's last great railway terminal and the origin point of "L.A.'s long, long-anticipated subway system") to Aimee Semple McPherson's Angelus Temple, now-gentrified neighborhoods like Silver Lake then only in mid-gentrification, the humble studio where he laid tracks for some of his biggest records, the corner where D.W. Griffith built Intolerance's ancient Babylon set, the storied celebrity hideout of the Chateau Marmont, UCLA ("almost my alma mater"), the Lake Shrine Temple of the Self-Realization Fellowship, and finally to edge of the continent.

More recently, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne traveled the entirety of Sunset Boulevard again, but on foot and in the opposite direction. The east-to-west route, he writes, "offers a way to explore an intriguing notion: that the key to deciphering contemporary Los Angeles is to focus not on growth and expansion, those building blocks of 20th century Southern California, but instead on all the ways in which the city is doubling back on itself and getting denser." For so much of the city's history, "searching for a metaphor to define Sunset Boulevard, writers" — or musicians or filmmakers or any number of other creators besides — "have described it as a river running west and feeding into the Pacific. But the river flows the other direction now."

Los Angeles has indeed plunged into a thorough transformation since Newman first simultaneously celebrated and satirized it, but something of the distinctively breezy spirit into which he tapped will always remain. "There‘s some kind of ignorance L.A. has that I’m proud of. The open car and the redhead and the Beach Boys, the night just cooling off after a hot day, you got your arm around somebody," he said to the Los Angeles Weekly a few years after taping his Great Streets tour. ”That sounds really good to me. I can‘t think of anything a hell of a lot better than that."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Andy Warhol Hosts Frank Zappa on His Cable TV Show, and Later Recalls, “I Hated Him More Than Ever” After the Show

Had Andy Warhol lived to see the internet--especially social networking--he would have loved it, though it may not have loved him. Though Warhol did see the very beginnings of the PC revolution, and made computer art near the end of his life on a Commodore Amiga 1000, he was mostly enamored, unsurprisingly, of TV. “I love television,” he once remarked, “It is the medium I’d most like to shine in. I’m really jealous of everybody who’s got their own show on television. I want a show of my own.”

Warhol realized his dream in 1979, though in a venue that may not have lived up to his fantasies: a New York public-access channel called Manhattan Cable, “which showed local sports matches and agreed to sell 30-minute slots to Warhol for around $75 a pop,” notes The Telegraph. Warhol made a total of 42 episodes of his odd interview show. The pop art impresario “wasn’t exactly a natural… when it came to the delicate art of chat-show hosting,” but “he didn’t let that stop him.” By 1983, one might have thought he’d have gotten the hang of it, yet he seems especially awkward when cranky prog genius Frank Zappa appeared on his show that year.




Luckily for Warhol, he is joined by Zappa fan Richard Berlin, who serves as a buffer between the two superstars. (Berlin is probably the son of William Randolph Hearst’s handpicked successor, whose daughter, Brigid, was one of Warhol’s film stars.) At least in the excerpt above, Berlin does all of the work while Warhol looks on, seemingly stupefied. But the truth is that Warhol hated Zappa, and after the interview, he wrote in his Diaries, “I hated Zappa even more than when it started.” Part of what the show’s ostensible host found so objectionable was Zappa’s egomaniacal personality. Though Warhol, like Zappa, controlled his own small independent empire, in temperament, the two couldn’t have been more different.

But there was also some personal history between them that goes back to the earliest days of the Velvet Underground. “I remember,” Warhol goes on, “when he was so mean to us when the Mothers of Invention played with the Velvet Underground—I think both at the trip, in L.A., and at the Fillmore in San Francisco. I hated him then and I still don’t like him.” Zappa wasn’t simply rude, however; at a 1967 show in New York, he turned his talent for ridicule into what Kaleidoscope magazine writer Chris Darrow called “one of the greatest pieces of rock’n roll theater that I have ever seen.”

The opening night was very crowded and Zappa and members of the Mothers of Invention showed up to show their support. (...) Nico's delivery of her material was very flat, deadpan, and expressionless, and she played as though all of her songs were dirges. She seemed as though she was trying to resurrect the ennui and decadence of Weimar, pre-Hitler Germany. Her icy, Nordic image also added to the detachment of her delivery. (...) The audience was on her side, as she was in her element and the Warhol contingent was very prominent that night. However, what happened next is what sticks in my mind the most from that night. In between sets, Frank Zappa got up from his seat and walked up on the stage and sat behind the keyboard of Nico's B-3 organ. He proceeded to place his hands indiscriminately on the keyboard in a total, atonal fashion and screamed at the top of his lungs, doing a caricature of Nico's set, the one he had just seen. The words to his impromptu song were the names of vegetables like broccolli, cabbage, asparagus... This "song" kept going for about a minute or so and then suddenly stopped. He walked off the stage and the show moved on.

What Warhol took personally may have just been the irrepressible outgrowth of Zappa’s disdain for virtually everything, which he expresses to Berlin in the interview. Original Mothers of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black speculated that he may have hated the Velvet Underground because “they were junkies and Frank just couldn’t tolerate any kind of drugs.” The two bands were also, briefly, competitors at MGM.

But perhaps Zappa just couldn’t tolerate anyone else taking the spotlight, especially a talented female performer. Warhol remembers Zappa's response to a compliment about his daughter, Moon. “Listen,” he supposedly told Warhol, “I created her. I invented her.... She's nothing. It's all me.” In contrast to the “peculiar” reply, Warhol writes “if it were my daughter I would be saying ‘Gee, she’s so smart,’ but he’s taking all the credit.” Zappa may have been a musical genius with a special entrepreneurial flair and incisive critical wit, but the “sexist autocrat… with a scabrous attitude,” as Carlo Wolff describes him, “was not a likeable man.” Certainly the mild-mannered Warhol didn’t think so.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Joni Mitchell Sings an Achingly Pretty Version of “Both Sides Now” on the Mama Cass TV Show (1969)

"Records can be a bad trip. The audience can play your mistakes over and over. In a television special they see you once and you work hard to make sure they're seeing you at your best." 

Mama Cass Elliot, The Argus

It’s hard to imagine anyone blessed with Mama Cass’ golden pipes being embarrassed by a recorded performance. A live gig, yes, though, celebrities of her era were subjected to far fewer witnesses.

The Internet was an undreamable little dream in 1969, when the sole episode of The Mama Cass Television Show aired. The former singer of the Mamas and the Papas died five years later, presumably unaware that future generations would have knowledge of, let alone access to, her failed pilot.




She may have described her variety show as “low key” to the Fremont, California Argus, but the guest list was padded with high wattage friends, including comedian Buddy Hackett, and singers Mary Travers and John Sebastian. Joni Mitchell, above, delivered an above-reproach performance of “Both Sides Now.”

Later, Mitchell and Travers joined their hostess for the heartfelt rendition of "I Shall Be Released” below, a performance that is only slightly marred by Elliot’s insane costume and an unnecessarily syrupy backing arrangement of strings and reeds.

Those who can’t live without seeing the complete show can purchase DVDs online.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She’ll is appearing onstage in New York City through June 26 in Paul David Young’s political satire, Faust 3. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Meet Alexander Graham Bell, Inventor of the Telephone and Popular TV Pitchman

Mr. Watson, come here! I want you to tell me why I keep showing up in television commercials. Is it because they think I invented the television?

- The ghost of Alexander Graham Bell

Not at all, my dear Mr. Bell. A second's worth of research reveals that a 21-year-old upstart named Philo Taylor Farnsworth invented television. By 1927, when he unveiled it to the public, you’d already been dead for five years.

You invented the telephone, a fact of which we’re all very aware.

Though you might want to look into intellectual property law.... Historic figures make popular pitchmen, especially if - like Lincoln, Copernicus, and a red hot Alexander Hamilton, they’ve been in the grave for over 100 years. (Hint - you’ve got five years to go.)




Or you could take it as a compliment! You’ve made an impression so lasting, the briefest of establishing shots is all we television audiences need to understand the advertiser's premise.

Thusly can you be co-opted into selling the American public on the apparently revolutionary concept of chicken for breakfast, above.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Mr. Watson gets a cameo in your 1975 ad for Carefree Gum. You definitely come off the better of the two.

You’re an obvious choice for a recent AT&T spot tracing a line from your revelatory moment to 20-something  hipsters wielding smartphones and sparklers on a Brooklyn rooftop. Their devices aren’t the only thing connecting you. It’s also the beards…

Apologies for the beardlessness of this 10 year old, low-budget spot for Able Computing in Papua New Guinea. Possibly the costumer thought Einstein invented the phone? Or maybe the creative director was counting on the local viewing audience not to sweat the small stuff. Your invention matters more than your facial hair.

Lego took a cue from the 80s Muppet Babies craze by sending you back to childhood. They also saddled you and your mom  with American accents, a regrettably common practice. I bet you would’ve liked Legos, though. They’re like blocks.

As for this one, your guess is as good as mine.

Readers, please share your favorite ads featuring historic figures in the comments below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in Paul David Young’s Faust 3, an indictment of the Trump administration that adapts and mangles Goethe's Faust (Parts 1 and 2) and the Gospels in the King James translation, as well as bits of Yeats, Shakespeare, Christmas carols, Stephen Foster, John Donne, Heiner Müller, Julia Ward Howe, and Abel Meeropol. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Free Libraries Shaped Like Doctor Who’s Time-Traveling TARDIS Pop Up in Detroit, Saskatoon, Macon & Other Cities

Image courtesy of Dan Zemke.

If you live in a major American city — and maybe even if you live in a major non-American one — you may well have come across a Little Free Library, those boxes of books open to the public for whomever would like to take one or leave one. Most Little Free Libraries, often put up on private property by the residents of that property, tend to look like oversized birdhouses, but none of the program's rules requires them to look that way. A Tokyo subway station, for instance, built one to resemble a subway car. Other industrious Little Free Library members have used the opportunity to pay tribute to their obsessions, and few obsessions run as deep (deeper, even, than the obsession for trains in Japan) as the one for Doctor Who.

The English genre-bending speculative-fiction show has, since its debut on the BBC back in 1963, followed the titular Doctor (just "the Doctor," not "Doctor Who," and certainly never "Dr. Who") through many dramatic changes of settings, and even more notably changes of actors, as he falls into adventures with the various Earthlings he encounters. Always on the move, the Doctor gets around by means of a machine called a TARDIS, which stands for "Time And Relative Dimension In Space." Theoretically able to change its shape depending on the period of time it lands in, the TARDIS — in a neat demonstration of the creativity that arises from constraints, in this case a severely limited production budget — gets permanently stuck in the shape of a London police call box, thus repurposing one of the best-known icons of English cities into one of the best-known icons of English television.




The best-known TARDIS-shaped Little Free Library, which appears at the top of this post, entered service in a vacant lot in Detroit, a place by now well used to making urban improvements by hand. The father and son behind it "began work last Labor Day, and were aided by an online building community called Tardis Builders," writes The Verge's Andrew Liptak.

"The final structure stands almost 10 feet tall, weighs almost a ton, and its front shelves holds around 140 books." These videos show off other book-lending TARDISes in North America, from Bloomington, Indiana to Macon, Georgia to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — all standing evidence of how far Doctor Who's appeal has spread beyond its native culture.

As much as it may seem like nothing more than the proudly nerdy pursuit of worshipful fans, building a Little Free Library (or in most of these cases, a not-so-Little Free Library) in the form of a TARDIS has a certain conceptual validity in and of itself. As every Doctor Who viewer knows, the TARDIS, not just a device enabling travel to any point in time-space, accomplishes another kind of spatial feat by having an interior much larger than its the exterior. “We thought it would be cool to fill the TARDIS with items that are large on the inside, like books that hold whole literary worlds,” says Dan Zemke, co-builder of the one in Detroit, in Parade article. Borges, as well as all the other most brilliant speculative minds before Doctor Who and after it, would no doubt approve.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

American Archive of Public Broadcasting Lets You Stream 7,000 Hours of Historic Public TV & Radio Programs

An archive worth knowing about: The Library of Congress and Boston's WGBH have joined forces to create The American Archive of Public Broadcasting and "preserve for posterity the most significant public television and radio programs of the past 60 years." Right now, they're overseeing the digitization of approximately 40,000 hours of programs. And already you can start streaming "more than 7,000 historic public radio and television programs."

The collection includes local news and public affairs programs, and "programs dealing with education, environmental issues, music, art, literature, dance, poetry, religion, and even filmmaking." You can browse the complete collection here. Or search the archive here. For more on the archive, read this About page.

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Batman Goes Surfing: Remembering Adam West (RIP) with Perhaps the Campiest Batman Episode Ever

In the various obits I read this weekend for Adam West, one word repeatedly came up--"campy."

Reuters started its obit: "Adam West, who earned a place in American pop culture history with his campy portrayal of the title character in the classic 1960s TV series "Batman," has died at age 88, his family said on Saturday."

The New York Times added: "His straight-faced portrayal of Batman in the campy 1960s TV series lifted the tight-clad Caped Crusader into the national consciousness, and inspired future wearers of the superhero's cape and cowl. The TV show was among the most popular in 1966, the year of its debut, and some of the era's top actors signed on to play villains."

And The Hollywood Reporter capped things with off:  Yes, the Batman series was campy. But it was also ironic — in that, all winks aside, there was something truly righteous and exciting about this purple-clad goofball." Indeed!

If you want Exhibit 1 of the wonderful campiness, check out the clip above, an outtake from the November 1967 episode, “Surf’s Up, Joker’s Under,” which turns on this plot:

The Joker plans to become the king of surfing, hoping the fame will give him control over the hearts and minds of Gotham City. He captures top surfer Skip Parker, then uses his "Surfing Experience & Ability Transferometer" to transfer the needed skills and stamina from Skip to himself. When all the other contestants drop out of the upcoming surfing match, Batman steps up to challenge the Joker's supremacy.

Just so you know. The Joker finishes first, but Batman wins on points.

The full episode (along with 119 other ones) can be viewed on Batman: The Complete Series, a remastered box set released just a few years ago. I loved watching the series in syndication as a kid. Do they play as well decades later? We'll find out.

Note: If you want to see where Adam West figured into the long line of Batman actors, see this video from our archive: The Evolution of Batman in Cinema: From 1939 to Present

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