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The Lost Energy of a City, 1980

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When NYC rooftops felt undiscovered!

There is this time period I like a lot. It’s roughly between 1980-1985. It’s not because it’s “the 80s” and there was big hair and Duran Duran and blah blah. I mean there WAS all that, and I love Duran Duran, but I have specific reasons for feeling nostalgic about this time in the early 80s. It was a time where things were changing. The cities, specifically, were changing. In the late 70s they were run down with crime and deterioration. Everybody hated this and films like “Taxi Driver” and “Klute” were very critical of the world of pimps and street hookers. But among all that danger, as is always the case, there was excitement. And in the 80s cities seemed to promise new possibilities. Maybe it was due to the presence of artists and gentrification. There was a new energy flowing through everything. The old tired look of bell-bottoms and long brown stringy hair was coming to an end. People were beginning to cut their hair short of shave it, and wear brightly colored makeup and clothes.

Just watch the movie Fame. I know you think it’s a silly “High School Musical” type movie, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about a bunch of hopeful young people in burned out NYC in 1980 trying to make it in the arts. “Fame” from 1980 is not a Disneyland, happy, predictable movie. There are really gritty scenes. A girl is forced to do porn. A student sits under a bridge with bums and trash everywhere. There are racial tensions. It’s unbelievable how scummy NYC was then. But there is hope.

Screenshot from 2018-02-17 19-09-23

Making art in a Times Square wasteland

In a way it reminds me of my memories of downtown Long Beach, CA and seeing the old beatnik places, Faye’s Bistro on 7th, Acres of Books and lots of old bars that had been “cool” in the 60s but were just run down with old hippies, just before their rediscovery. That is the feeling I get from how the kids in “Fame” are experiencing NYC, going to working class bars and diners and Rocky Horror but experiencing them in a fresh new way, even though the gentrification scene of the early 80s had not quite hit yet. See the 1980 version of Fame. It’s totally worth it.

Screenshot from 2018-02-17 19-47-04

Does this scene need another caption?

Annie Hall (1977) is another movie that gives me this sense of downtown NYC. The Ramones and Talking Heads were probably playing down at CBGB’s, but Alvie and Annie are not aware of this. But still there is that great sense that things are about to get “cooler”. The way Diane Keaton dresses in clothes borrowed from a man, pleated pants and hats, but looking every bit feminine and stylish, just breaking the rules. And that great scene where Woody and Diane Keaton are standing on the rooftops of the lower east side. I love that backdrop. It’s every rooftop I wanted to be on in my most exciting memories of L.A. and San Francisco in the early 80s, a time when I really wished to be in NYC and San Francisco was the closest thing. Now NYC rooftops are totally commercial.


But back then you could still see the rundown apartments where people kept pigeons, the downtown sleazy city, which had seen so many scandals, but still stylish and cool even without every modern convenience. Later in the movie Woody tells Diane she’s got a “great apartment” and she does. In Klute (1971), I dont’ think Jane Fonda thought of her apartment as “great”. I think she just thought of it as a depressing inner city apartment that she had to get out of. It wasn’t until the late 70s that people started to value downtown apartments as romantic settings with historical details.

Screenshot from 2018-02-17 20-26-46

Prince, appearing on his motorcycle out of the industrial ruin

Purple rain (1984) also carries this romanization of the blighted 70s city. It’s set in the midwestern city of minneapolis, as depressing as a rust-belt city can be, but that bleak backdrop, more abandoned buildings and water towers than the porn theaters of Times Square, still gives the movie it’s excitement and coolness and anticipation. Yet Purple Rain also has all those scenes in nature. “Purify Yourself in the Waters of Lake Minnetonka”, Prince says to Sheila E. in a scene that could have been a risque version of “On Golden Pond”.

I wish I had more pictures of this period. It’s something I mostly remember in my head, going to parties in downtown Los Angeles warehouses that had been converted with neon and weird murals, or nightclubs converted from tired old bowling alleys or chinese restaurants. In the early 80s, everything had potential and was being “converted”. Converted from some old tired use. There was such a feeling of energy in the air. It came out in so many different ways, punk, new wave, yuppie, downtown art scene, funk, rap. But all of these were just the effects. At the bottom of it all was this energy. Ultimately, that gentrification would lead to the yuppie era, and then to the 90s Generation X era, and probably several eras later to what we have now, the hipster downtowns such as Brooklyn or Portland. I won’t attempt to speak for the kids who live there, but from my point of view the energy has been lost. It is saturated. There is nothing else to discover. Every old US city block has been “rediscovered” and converted and made into a coffee shop or a tattoo parlor. Some of the gentrified use has become obsolete, like record stores. So what will be the next frontier of coolness? We will have to wait and see. I’ll know when the feeling is in the air!

Screenshot from 2018-02-17 20-33-03


Written by nattie

February 18, 2018 at 3:46 pm

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I dreamed that I was in L.A. with my son Torben. I was driving him in a car and taking him around to see the sites, the old L.A. sites, like Griffith Park, and the studios at Hollywood and Gower, and the old houses that used to belong to people like Marilyn Monroe or Joan Crawford. I was excited to be there and show my son the place that I grew up in and everything that made it special. We had spent the past 13 years (most of his childhood) in New Jersey. I wanted him to experience the feeling of celebrity nearby, that mysterious feeling you got when you drive through Beverly Hills or West Hollywood. Driving past these rich people’s houses you sensed that these were not ordinary rich people. They were famous. They were exciting with beauty and talent. If you saw them on the street, you’d recognize them and you’d be starstruck. In contrast, if you saw a millionaire on the street in New York, you’d never recognize him. Oh, he’d be a little more nicely dressed, but he made his money in a Wall St bank, or at Pepsi, and those, (yawn) are boring ways to get rich. As a child of middle class parents in L.A., I was always very envious of the rich who had things I didn’t have. But I was also a bit proud of them because they were cool too.

Also in my dream I also remember feeling the air, that special L.A. air that is mostly haze, but seems to contain all the memories of every movie that was filmed in an L.A. location. The memories of Lauren Bacall standing with Humprey Bogart in the bedroom in The Long Goodbye, or of Joan Crawford standing on the pier in Mildred Pierce, or Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, surrounded by flowers in Santa Monica, or Faye Dunaway drinking tea with Jack Nicholson. And it brought back memories of my own childhood, the Spanish colonial building where I attended school in 5th and 6th grades. Did the other students love to stand and gaze up at the bell tower with the thick plaster walls as much as I did? I don’t know but I loved it for a reason I didn’t understand yet, because it reminded me of Beverly Hills, because I was sharing the air with every famous person around me. That special, romantic haze, sun and jacarandas. That sounds romantic, but for anyone who has spent the first 27 years of their life growing up in L.A., it’s true.

Anyway we were about to drive around – Fountain to Santa Monica where it jogs over to the Sunset Strip, up Sunset and turn right at Gower and up to Hollywood blvd, and then back down Highland Ave all the way to Olympic and then out to Santa Monica. All the while the haze and the sun are there. But in my dream, Hollywood had been completely transformed. It was now just a normal town, like Denver or Seattle. A normal town in the West. All people were talking about was food and normal things, like paying off a Corolla. But food was what was on everyone’s mind – the fish tacos, the taco stands, the korean tacos, the Banh Mi, Pho. It was a foodie town and that’s all it had ever been. No one was hurrying to a casting call in high heels, no one was on location looking around for the production assistant who should have ordered sandwiches a long time ago, no producers were talking about networking over breakfast or drinks at El Coyote. The were talking about getting lunch but the reason was food. Was the queso good? Was it cheesy enough? Was it creamy? Did it have enough tomato? Did it have jalapeño? Were the taco shells crispy? Did they have some taste of shrimp baked in and or was there a hint of lime or were they shrimp lime crispy? Or shrimp lime crispy with cheese crisps? No one cared the Barbara Payton had once had a $5000/week contract with Warner but spent the last 20 years of her life as a prostitute turning cheap tricks on the Sunset Strip and drinking herself to death at the Pig & Whistle. It was no longer Hollywood, it was a big supermarket.

And then we went to this food court, that was supposed to be the best place in L.A.. They had everything – Mexican, pizza (not just any pizza, the BEST pizza with totally thin crispy crust and vodka sauce), they had craft beer, they had pizza with craft beer sauce, they had frozen yogurt in the flavor of red wine (somehow it was AMAZING with marshmallows), and greek yogurt with the flavor of lime and banana, or key lime cheesecake with the flavor of honey, and frozen yogurt bubble tea in taro or dragonfruit. You wanted to eat everything. You didn’t want to do anything but eat. And then, between bites and all the competing menus I noticed what it had been. It had been a club, about 30 years ago, where movie industry people came and hung out. It had been dark and smokey. You could order a bourbon or a beer or a martini. You sat at the bar and smoked, and talked about casting calls, about tryouts, hoping to be seen by an agent, hoping to keep yourself skinny. They had a menu, but half the stuff wasn’t available and no one ate anyway. They basically lived on nothing but coffee and cigarettes and dreams. The place was hazy, but no one really remembered it in a conscious way. No one could tell you what color the walls were or whether there was a pay phone behind the door or whether they had fried pickles. It wasn’t a concrete place but it symbolized dreams. I was trying to explain this to my son but it was kind of hard to make him understand with all the good smells, so we ate tacos and ice cream and I remember waking up kind of sad.


Mildred Pierce, 1945

Written by nattie

September 30, 2017 at 4:33 am

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“Goths” by the Mountain Goats (2017) is about growing up goth. Specifically it’s about growing up goth in Southern California in the 1980s. Musically, the album is about as opposite from intense as you can get – just goofy, lighthearted soft rock, a la steely dan, that you can do your work to. It’s a very ironic contrast to the dark, echo-ing music that we once wore as a tribute to our risky lives. As the lyrics to “Stench of the Unburied” go

And outside it’s ninety-two degrees
And KROQ is playing Siouxsie and the Banshees

And in “Wear Black”, an homage to the fashion that gaves us goths such a sense of identity:

Wear black when it’s light outside
Wear black when there’s no light
Wear black following the left hand path
Wear black but I get right

This describes a feeling I know so well, the power and shock-value of simply wearing black clothes, back in 80s California when, when Esprit and Camp Beverly Hills reigned and everything was bright and pastel surfer-preppy, but you dreamed of being in England where everything was dark and grey and there were old castles.

But Darnielle doesn’t just get the fashion of being a goth youth (though he gets it SO well). He describes the feeling of listening to the music – the bands like Bauhaus, the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Mission, and of course the Sisters of Mercy. L.A. goth was not just fashion. We knew our music very well! In “Rain in Soho”, to a Sisters of Mercy beat:

The river goes where the water flows
But no one knows when the Batcave closed
The river goes where the water flows
But no one knows when the Batcave closed

and in true Darnielle fashion, travelling back into the 16 year old goth kid’s mind when he finally spies that black-haired soul mate who he can suffer through life’s torture with (though also sort of ironic, like a joking parent watching the teens at the mall):

There’s a club where you’d like to go
You could meet someone who’s lost like you
Revel in the darkness like a pair of open graves
Fumble through the fog for a season or two

Of course we all have to grow up, don’t we? And this eventually happened to all goth children. Because no matter how talented, or art-damaged, or alienated you are, even if you believe, like when John Cale in Half Past France, that “people always bored me anyway”, you will one day have to wake up to the alarm and go to work:

Crusty boots in the corner of the closet
By the tackle box
Once proud shining silver buckles
Safe behind the normalcy locks

Baubles and bangles
A lost age
Still all aglow with the radiance of the stage

That’s who I was (that’s who I was)
This is who I am (this is who I am)
Work to pay down the interest
On the mortgage
Used to get paid by the gram

And that’s how it is. You used to be on a collision course with death. You were surely going to end up a vampire living in the Paris Catacombs. But maybe instead, you just gradually outgrew the lifestyle and now you have a desk job, sitting in a cube with “Goths” playing on your earbuds. No one understands you. No one ever did, but now it doesn’t even matter.

Instead everyone goes about their own lives, like on the cover of this album. Everyone wears black. Everyone dies their hair funny colors for no reason. But you are still the only one who really feels the music of Sisters of Mercy, and Nick Cave, Bowie in his Berlin period, and you remember Gene Loves Jezebel.

A few more songs that deserve mention are “Unicorn Tolerance”. The lyrics aren’t my favorite. He kind of admits that it was all for show:

And when the clouds do clear away
Get a momentary chance to see
The thing I’ve been trying to beat to death
The soft creature that I used to be
The better animal I used to be

But that’s not how I feel! I still like bats better than unicorns. But the song is just so darn cute that you have to sing along (OK so maybe I’m not that goth either).

Shelved is great too. The last verse is what I really love because the music sounds like New Order but he’s singing about getting a job for a software company:

Maybe dad is right
I’m still young
And I can write C++ just as good as anyone
I know this guy at Lucasarts
He says they’re looking for hands
In fifteen years I’ll be throwing back beers
With my feet in the sand

So life starts out a wild ride, and ends up slowing down, like in Shelved:

The ride’s over
I know
But I’m not ready to go

But with albums like this to listen to, the aftermath does not have to be quite so boring.


Written by nattie

July 21, 2017 at 1:14 am

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Can we Repeal NAFTA? Do we even want to?

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Trump got elected on the promise that he will repeal NAFTA and bring American jobs back from China and Mexico. I thought that was boneheaded from the beginning. I mean, look at Chinese factory towns, like, do it, right now:








Do we really want to bring THIS back to America? And even if we think we can do it on “American terms” with cleanliness and standards, who are we kidding? The world  is addicted to a steady diet of rock-bottom prices. Nobody will buy goods that have been made in factories with Western standards.

But say we do bring them back, and we ruin our environment. Will Wal-Mart dismantle its whole supply chain to suddenly start supporting American manufactured goods? I doubt it. Chances are Wal-Mart will prevent Trump from making good on his promise.

Here is a good article that says basically the same thing. Promising to get us out of NAFTA was one thing, but actually doing it is another. Why American voters fell for this line of crap is a whole other article.

Written by nattie

November 23, 2016 at 1:40 am

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Listen to the Man

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After Donald Trump’s depressing victory in 2016, a lot of people have been feeling abandoned, depressed, and angry. Reading Facebook I see there is a tendency to blame the other side, the Republicans, the fascists, or whoever else comes in handy.

What makes me saddest is that Hillary Clinton took a real blow, and she really fought for us. The way Republicans smeared her is shameful. The whole “Hillary for prison” campaign was just hate mongering, and that offends me more than anything. Hillary would have been a great president! But it’s not time yet.

But the democratic party has a few lessons to learn.

And Bernie Sanders recently said something really smart that sums it all up, for me. Sanders said:

“It is not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me! No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies.”

Nailing it, as usual. Here is the full article. I totally agree with Bernie. The democratic party needs to stop pointing fingers and take a long, good look at itself. It needs to get over idenity politics. Are you black? latino? woman? jewish? muslim? transgender? That’s good, then run! But it’s not enough. Can you help lower college tuitions? Can you stop global warming, or create jobs that don’t pollute? Now that’s more interesting!

So Sanders, speaking with sense and tough love, says “it’s not enough just to have an identity. You have to tell us what you can do for all working Americans”. And maybe that’s what the democratic party needs.


Written by nattie

November 23, 2016 at 1:24 am

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Let her Speak!

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People always say Hillary Clinton has no personality. After watching last night’s debate, I can see where those rumours come from. Donald Trump was interrupting her and even yelling at her at one point. She had to use all her resources to maintain dignity and composure. Who can have a “personality” while they are being yelled at? He might have a personality, but it’s the personality and charisma of a crazy man.

But she got her message across, even with him yelling in her face.

Even if Hillary didn’t have to stand vigil against his craziness, I don’t understand why we are so obsessed with personality in politics. We elect people like Jesse Ventura or Arnold Schwarzenegger (wow did I spell that right? I DID!) and then they screw up the budget because they are basically ego-crazed showmen and not heads-down workers who knows the rules and listen to constituents. It’s like we just want to be entertained by someone who is diverting on TV. We don’t want to consider how they approach issues, because issues require paying attention and that is boring.

And how did Donald Trump address issues? My biggest issue is the environment, and global warming. My mom told me it was 103 degrees in California today. I don’t know about the rest of you, but that is too hot for late September. Growing up in California I remember the temperatures were in the low 70s this time of year. It’s pumpkin time! How depressing to think of a bunch of kids trying to trick or treat in 103 degree weather, walking around sweating in their costumes.

But Trump does not think global warming is real. At the debate he only laughed about climate change. In the first part of it he made a lot of noise about bringing jobs that have gone to China and Mexico back to America. I don’t know about the rest of America but I don’t want those jobs. They are polluting, dirty industry. In China they can’t even see 20 feet in front of them because of dirty air. Their lakes and streams are all polluted. And in Mexico rivers run green and kids get rashes after going in the water. That kind of pollution is the result of tax breaks to companies so they can expand unregulated and wreck the environment, digging up trees and dumping in rivers, creating a horrible reality for poor neighbors and workers. Those are the kind of jobs Trump is talking about and I don’t want them back.

Hillary did have a vision for growth, and although it was hard to pick up over Trumps repeated rude interrupting, it did come through. She wanted to boost small businesses, and provide tax incentives  for middle class people who are trying to start businesses, and tax the rich who have been getting away with way too much for a long time. And she wanted to create sustainable jobs in alternative energy. That sounds perfect. Collecting tax money from those who should be paying it and building the economy in a slow, sustainable way, protecting trees and the seasons instead of God knows what Trump would do in his short-sighted, backwards vision of Mexican style maquiladoras and tax cuts.


Factory in Yutian, China

I love Hillary’s idea of a sustainable economy – America moving toward the future, paving the way for China and Mexico to create green economies one day too. It is a vision and in a way it reminds me of the leadership of California Governor Jerry Brown, another “boring” politician who is a serious, behind-the-scenes hard worker, who got California out of debt following Schwarzenegger and takes the environment seriously.  Sometimes it’s the boring politicians, who know the rules and just put their heads down and work, who are best to have in office. In fact I’d say that’s true every time.

So Trump went on in the debate with some silly answers and some ridiculous back-pedalling about the Obama birther claims and his refusal to release his tax returns, and terrorism, and lying about how he didn’t support the war in Iraq, all important stuff too, but not as important as climate change (to me). But the most important and scary part was his promise to cut taxes for the rich and bring dirty polluting industry back to America. That is just what we don’t need. We have to move forward.


So I hope Hillary will win. I think she did beautifully at the debate in her quiet, somewhat stiff way. And a little stiffness never hurt anybody. She knows the rules, has a long-term vision, and makes good decisions, and that is more important than entertaining us on TV, although I think she will be able to do that once she is free of her abusive opponent.





Written by nattie

September 27, 2016 at 8:47 am

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Wearing Black – Punk, Mourning, and Victorian Manners

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I started a blog where I could complain about men on dating sites, but now I’m off all dating sites, and besides that seemed negative, so I will go back to posting random thoughts.

The combination of “victorian” and “punk” is well accepted. After all there is steampunk, and there is that Fall song about the Victorian Child. I’ll post the video, but I won’t post a picture of steampunk, because there are a million of those.

Lately I was thinking about punk, and goth, and Victorian culture, and modern culture. For one thing, people started wearing a lot of black in the 1980s thanks to punk. The hippies never wore black, nor did the yuppies. It was the punks, and the goths who started that. But you’d never know that today, because most themed movies, web sites, etc describe the 80s as a time of really bright clothes. But for some of us, it was a decade to start wearing black, perhaps as a contrast to all that Miami Vice brightness. I think the the beatniks did the same thing in the 50s.

So goths of the 80s wore black, and beatniks of the 50s. And then after the grunge era of the 90s everyone started wearing black, and of course we all do now.

But was wearing black really so rare before the last few decades of the 20th century? And if so, why? I think it was. I’ve been reading the 2nd edition of Emily Post’s etiquette book, from 1922, and she has an entire chapter on the subject of wearing black. It’s called “Funerals”. That’s when it hit me. Wearing black had a special place up until the mid 20th century. It was reserved for funerals! And I just thought of it as a good basic color that went with everything. But most people did not see it that way in 1922:

 Among those who come to the house there is sure to be a woman friend of the family whose taste and method of expenditure is similar to theirs. She looks through the clothes they have, to see if there is not a black dress or suit that can be used, and makes a list of only the necessary articles which will have to be procured.

Not that many women even had black clothes. They had to have them specially made for the occasion of mourning. Ms. Post continues:

Or the mourning departments of the big stores and specialty shops are always willing to send a selection on approval, so that a choice can be made by the family in the privacy of their own rooms.

A mourning department in a store! I’d never heard of such a thing. Back in 1922 black was probably a really powerful and rare color to wear. It meant death. It was a color you did not mess with. And it was rarely worn. I guess that is why the greasers and the beatniks adopted it in the 1950s, and the punks  and goths in the 1980s. Black was the color people always stayed away from, and countercultural groups wanted that power.

Black also had sexual appeal. In her chapter, The Very Young Widow, Ms. Post acknowledges the desirability of a young woman in black:

The young widow should wear deep crepe for a year and then lighter mourning for six months and second mourning for six months longer. There is nothing more utterly captivating than a sweet young face under a widow’s veil, and it is not to be wondered at that her own loneliness and need of sympathy, combined with all that is appealing to sympathy in a man, results in the healing of her heart. She should, however, never remain in mourning for her first husband after she has decided she can be consoled by a second.

There is no reason why a woman (or a man) should not find such consolation, but she should keep the intruding attraction away from her thoughts until the year of respect is up, after which she is free to put on colors and make happier plans.

I mean that sounds like something Nick Cave himself would write, or Lydia Lunch in a more innocent mood.

Incidentally, Ms. Post, who always advised against drawing attention to oneself,  did not approve of wearing fancy black clothes:

Fancy clothes in mourning are always offenses against good taste, because as the word implies, a person is in mourning. To have the impression of “fashion” dominant is contrary to the purpose of somber dress; it is a costume for the spirit, a covering for the visible body of one whose soul seeks the background. Nothing can be in worse taste than crepe which is gathered and ruched and puffed and pleated and made into waterfalls, and imitation ostrich feathers as a garnishing for a hat. The more absolutely plain, the more appropriate and dignified is the mourning dress. A “long veil” is a shade pulled down—a protection—it should never be a flaunting arrangement to arrest the amazed attention of the passerby.

“A Shade pulled down”. That sums up the serious of wearing black in past times. It had one meaning only, and that was death. Now black is just a practical color that does not get dirty in snow and always looks sharp. Today, it has been stripped of it’s meaning of death and  mourning.


But what will the punks and goths, who want to connect with the eternal and the power of death, wear now that everyone is wearing black?

How about wearing white?



Written by nattie

September 14, 2016 at 1:27 am

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