The first of the great 2007 Simon column switch-off. Great food at Blue Velvet, loving Lee Hazelwood, KCRW, and more.
Here at The Simon we like to shake things up. And so, in this New Year, we’ve offered our writers the opportunity to trade columns and tackle topics that are different from their usual beats. To inaugurate this experiment, I’ve asked to take a stab at my co-editor Tim Grierson’s column, Consumables. I hope I live up the task...
January is upon us and the hype machine for movies is gearing up for full blast. (Or is it already in full swing?) Living in Los Angeles, many of us yearn for an escape from awards mania: I swear, with the producers, writers, actors, academy members, pseudo-independent people, critics in L.A., foreign critics, critics in New York, and anyone else you can image giving awards, it’s a wonder that any film doesn’t end up with something by the end of the season. Anyhow... Here are some non-cinematic ways to get through these trying months until after the awards are over are we can all go back to not caring.
Blue Velvet (750 Garland St. Los Angeles, CA 90017) With soft, sensual lighting, dark walls and a sunken bar, overlooking a glittering downtown Los Angeles and a warm steaming rooftop pool, the latest addition to downtown dining is as smooth as Hugh Hefner’s smoking jacket. Most new restaurants feature pretty familiar fare, but the menu at Velvet is unique -- you’ll see stuff on here that you won’t find anywhere else, and it all seems to go perfectly together. Word on the street is that most of the veggies are grown onsite, a politically progressive move that should be the envy of any environmentally conscious restaurateur. Perhaps the only downside is the odd choice to have a co-ed bathroom. Probably seemed like a hip, trendsetting idea, but in all honesty, it ends up feeling a little uncomfortable and slightly forced. We all use restaurant bathrooms for alone time and regrouping, and with no private refuge, where can you go to make sure your tie is still straight and there’s no leftover spinach in your teeth? Still, any bathroom annoyance is immediately forgotten when you return to your crispy yogurt, beet cake, or whatever other perfect concoction is brought to the table.
KCRW Winter Sign-Up (89.9) If you haven’t yet chipped in your dues to support one of the great cultural advantages to living in Los Angeles, you should pick up that phone and plunk down your pledge. Like now. I listen to KCRW throughout the day, and don’t know how I’d get by without Morning Edition and All Things Considered. On the weekend, one of my favorite rituals is to bake on Sunday mornings while enjoying the Puzzlemaster and Le Show. Ira Glass is worth his weight in gold, and Good Food is as good as it gets. Why is it that KCRW is so much more intelligent than anything on television? Or anything else on the radio, for that matter? While at the same time remaining completely unpretentious? My guess is that they are totally committed to quality and unwilling to compromise for anything less -- a feat that is pretty rare in this world of homogenized “independent” art and corporate, by-the-books culture production. I have to be honest and say that I actually enjoy the pledge drive, even thought I know everyone else hates it. I think it’s fun to hear about all the premiums and the different sponsorships available. And when you hear the names of the people pledging, you really do get that sense of a Los Angeles community. Hell -- there’s something intelligent and entertaining in how they raise money. Can you beat that?
Rome (HBO) / Polly Walker I just learned that this is the final year of Rome. It’s only in its second season, but suddenly Sunday nights just won’t seem the same without the machinations of Atia of the Julii. Giving Sean Phillips a run for her money, Atia is the bad-girl of the Roman Republic, screwing and manipulating her way to power and wealth. At the same time, her vulnerability to the philandering Mark Antony is oddly poignant, because you sense in this one man the single Petruchio who was able to tame the wild Katherine. And on top of all this, she’s naughty and wicked without devolving into camp. I know it’s trashy, but I don’t really get why Rome hasn’t caught on with a larger following. Certainly more salacious fun than the generally dreary and “reeking with meaning” series Six Feet Under, and with a little more intellectual heft than the fun but ultimately lightweight Sex and the City, Rome should easily be one of the jewels in the HBO crown. (Supposedly Deadwood and Carnivale were great. But I could never get past all that dust.) I suppose the rise of Octavian would be a fitting place to end the series, but I was excited to see how they would deal with the same material covered in I, Claudius. I guess we’ll never know.
13 (Mark Taper Forum) It would be pretty tough to find fault with the infectious joy and freewheeling fun of this musical enjoying its world debut at the Mark Taper Forum. True, there’s something slightly dated about it, and might white-wash some of the issues that face kids in today’s technologically sophisticated and sexually-charged world. Elephant it’s not. That being said, there’s an innocence captured onstage that’s hard to find in most of today’s entertainment, and it ultimately ends up being a pretty nostalgic experience -- making the viewer yearn for those days when life really was simpler, but seemed oh-so-complex. As we were walking out, my friend started to make up his own musical called 35, featuring tunes about waking up with a hangover or not being able to find a date and worrying about being single when you die. It was a funny joke, but also made me realize one of the real charms of the play. It puts adulthood into a perspective, and makes you realize really how far you’ve come. What really shines are the performances: These kids are irritatingly talented, and bring so much force and energy to the stage that you feel you want to take a 12-hour nap after the 100-or-so minute show. The Emperor’s Children (Knopf) Claire Messud’s novel about three baby literati -- the daughter of a famous writer who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps, a documentarian without a subject, and a fledgling cultural critic -- is the best, most knowing novel I’ve read in a long while. In its unsparing portrait of the cruelties and self-obsession of people in their early 30s, Messud perfectly captures the current generation of media wannabes who all feel they have a singularly important story to tell, but no experience or wisdom to back it up. At the same time, set against the backdrop of an exciting, fast-paced New York City, it’s also a reminder of how innocent we were before 9/11. The book’s been racking up great reviews since its release in the fall, but I think you’re still in time to read it and be in the know. At least that’s what the main characters themselves might say...
Lee Hazelwood, Cake or Death (Ever Records) I once spent a 5-hour train journey listening to Hazelwood’s “Cowboy in Sweden” album on repeat. Watching the sun go down on a warm April afternoon, traveling through a foreign land where I didn’t speak the language, watching the countryside roll by as the sweet sounds of jazz, country and psychedelia wafted over me -- it was one of the most memorable bonding experiences I can remember ever having had with an album. Hazelwood’s self-proclaimed final record is everything you could hope for: Political, emotional, funny, wise, playful, even sexy, and complete with that unmistakable Hazelwood sound and style. If nothing else, his rendition of “the original melody” of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” (he wrote it for Nancy) is worth the price of purchase.
Consumables is a regular overview of popular culture.