Imitation of Life, Los Angeles. 31. x. 12

So a couple of days ago  I steeled myself and drove to Amoeba Records on Sunset and Cahuenga in Hollywood. I had been told that Amoeba would ‘blow my mind’ but I thought this was just a bit of Cailfornian hyperbole and I was sceptical. The underground car park below the store allowed for 1 hour free parking and I thought that would be plenty. In fact I have not seen so much vinyl in one place since the Oxford Street Virgin Megastore before the advent of the CD. There were two huge rooms on the ground floor full of new and second-hand CDs and records. Mostly pop and dance in the front with jazz and classical in the back. Faced with so much stuff I suffered the usual indecision and ended by buying what seems like a random selection of things:

‘Jazz Jam 4’ on vinyl for the beautiful cover by David Stone Martin. (With Count Basie, Benny Carter and many others)

‘The World of Harry Partch’ on vinyl to represent ‘weird’ America.

‘Heart Failed in the Back of a Taxi’ mixes CD single by Saint Etienne because I am a fan.

Three 7″ singles plus a CD as a package by the Nels Cline Trio called ‘Ground’ – for some local colour.

‘Imitation of Life/Double Indemnity’ on CD by Steve Beresford and Tristan Honsinger (with David Toop and Toshinori Kondo) because I thought it would be great.

Peter Brotzmann Clarinet Project, ‘Berlin Djungle’ for the same reason.

Heinner Goebbels and Heiner Muller, ‘Der Mann im Fahrstul’ because I thought ‘Stifters Dinge’ was wonderful.

Two Luciano Berio albums – ‘Epifanie/Folk Songs’ and ‘Laborintus 2’ because I love them both.

Then when I took everything to the counter I spotted a copy of Talikng Heads ‘Speaking in Tongues’ in the Robert Rauschenberg cover. On the plastic sleeve was written ‘Clean Sealed Orig! No yellowing!’ so I succumbed and bought that too.

My one hour time limit was probably useful as I might have just gone on and on juggling possibilities and ultimatley buying far too much. (There are still a couple of things that I wonder if I should have not put back.)

I thought that the perfect follow-up to this spree would be to go and look at the metaphorical stack of platters that is the Capitol Records Building on Vine. (‘Take me down to Vine Street. Stop when you hear that Bad Beat…’). Looks like just the number of records for a 12-stacker…this is Los Angeles after all.

Capitol Records Tower. Welton Becket Associates, 1954-6.

I have been having some difficulty finding things to listen to on the radio in the car in LA. Mexican and Korean pop (the seemingly ubiquitous ‘Gagnam Style’) are ok for a while. I’ve bumped into very sober and patchy classical stations too but none have seemed to fit my driving in LA mood. I thought that on the way back from the record store I would play some of the new CDs I had bought. First I played the Saint Etienne single and that was fine…mixes of a song that I already knew well with some added bad beats. The Nels Cline CD was sealed into a bag with the 7 inches so that left the Beresford or the Brotzmann. I thought the latter might be a little too ‘full-on’ for driving so I put on ‘Imitation of Life’. It begins in quite polite mode with something like a chamber ensemble then slowly begins to fall apart. At some point as I was driving I realised I was probably breaking the law in the US by driving without carrying my license with me. I am fairly new to the roads of LA so these factors added together made me feel a bit anxious. As the music developed so did my anxiety and when there was a sudden crash followed by whistles I was momentarily confused only to discover that these were on the CD and not on the street. Soon after there was a man shouting his innocence (‘I didn’t do it!’) followed by the sound of sirens and my paranoia returned in spades but I made it home safe just as the music ended.

Then yesterday at LACMA I saw this image in a small exhibition on Expressionist cinema:

Otto Dix. ‘Larm der Strasse’ (Street Noise) from the portfolio ‘Neun Holzschnitte’, 1922.

A perfect evocation of the urban sound field made in Berlin in the 1920s; just as relevant to the streets of Los Angeles in 2012.

Las Vegas…some saving graces.



On my first morning in Vegas I walked into the hinterland behind the Strip to visit Record City. It was a long, hot, dusty walk and because of the particular geography of Las Vegas Boulevard I ended up just a couple of blocks east of the Strip. While I was in the shop the owner talked on the phone to various people about new picture discs that had just come in – either this is how he makes a living from the shop or he just doesn’t really like old vinyl with which the shop is full. The music in the shop all comes through the computer. The second hand records were marked down by 25% and the floor was covered with $1 crates. Here are two finds from digging through these crates.


2. The Beat Cafe

Downtown on Fremont, east of the Fremont Experience, Las Vegas becomes kind of normal. The Beat is a coffee shop and record store with tiny art galleries attached. The music they play is all on vinyl – the record deck sits on the counter where you place your order. They play old Beatles and Hendrix records and they stick and jump. That’s ok…that’s what records do. I bought a Brian Auger and Julie Tippet record here.



In the Interzone between the southern half of the Strip and Downtown, old Vegas surfaces in dilapidated form. There are motels that have seen better days, strip joints, vacant lots and now some galleries. This area is a lot less ‘scripted’ than the controlled fantasy managed by MGM and Caesar Entertainment. At the hottest part of the day I stopped under a tree for shade and realised the tree was full of birds chattering in the same kind of repetitive weave of sound as the slot machines in the casino. But the birds were so deep within the foliage that they were invisible.


Las Vegas. 21. x. 12

This is the situatonist city gone wrong. The Las Vegas Strip is an urban environment characterised by traps, snares, dead-ends, labyrinths and false tracks. But the labyrinth here is a means of control rather than a way of getting lost. There is an illusion of density caused by the artificial lighting of interiors and the abundance of mirrors but, as Calvino would have it, this is really a ‘Thin City’. Heading east away from the Strip the walker quickly enters a hinterland of car parks, low-rise housing and service buildings.

Thousands of people negotiate the Strip as best they can on foot but are blocked and manipulated; steered more or less willingly into casinos and shopping malls. The exteriors of these buildings refer to ‘real’ places, Rome, Paris, New York, Venice. The theatre is continued indoors with ‘canals’ and versions of the Forum. Last night I ate a Mexican meal in a Morroccan street in the eternal twilight under a painted cartoon blue sky. From my seat at the bar I could see 5 different TV channels on 12 monitors. There were too many sources of music to be able to distinguish one from another. Right now I can hear the rumbling of a band playing at a pool party 25 floors below (‘Hotel California with added echo and reverb) and at the same time there is the tinny background sound of canned music from an adjacent pool.
Sound becomes a kind of fog that adds to disorientation. Occasionally this fog is punctured by a burst of noise – a ‘volcano’, a spectacular explosive fountain display or the dull sound of recorded bells broadcasting from the campanile of St Marks. Speakers along the meandering disjointed sidewalks spew out a barrage of invitations to experience the particular novelties of certain casinos. Music and traffic noise fill any sonic gaps that might appear. The music is anything from Parisian accordions to the B52s. I have heard the latter 3 times in the lobby of the Flamingo Hotel and the lyrics – ‘Roam, if you want to, roam around the world…’ provide an ironic commentary to this place that acts as a replacement for travel, a replacement for anything that might be unexpected.
This attempt to replace the unknown with a set of pre-scripted experiences is ultimately melancholic. The things Vegas doesn’t recognise are decay and death. But no matter how many relics are swept away and how much is effaced there is the lingering suspicion that this city embodies a kind of grim futility.