One day, when I was in college, a friend offhandedly complained about a lyric in David Bowie's "Fashion." I was stunned – he was actually parsing the lyrics as if they were sentences. It had never occurred to me to do that. I was well into my 20s before I tried to piece together Dylan's lyrics in a sequential way; I always just liked the way his words sounded atop the shambling stacks of guitars, keyboards and drums. I still hear lyrics vertically.
Possibly because I'm so easily intoxicated by the potent cocktail of rhythm, harmony, melody and timbre, I don't tend to hear lyrics in a sequential, narrative way; that part of my brain just shuts down like a kitten seized by the scruff of the neck. I hear words or phrases continuously coinciding and colliding with whatever musical-sonic event is happening at the moment, and the more evocative those collisions, the better the lyrics. (Michael Stipe, Stephen Malkmus and Kurt Cobain have all done it very well.)
So I don't care about witty, revealing lines or good stories — I simply don't hear them. It's one reason I've never been able to get into Leonard Cohen and so much of what I call "grown-up music" — music that downplays rhythm and melody in favor of a lot of meaningful words. Maybe "grown-up music" tends not to be as densely musical as most other popular music in order to reduce the intoxicating effect I referred to above, but for me, anyway, it doesn't work. I just hear volumes of words and nothing synergizing with them.
And I always thought I was kind of a freak on this score, perhaps a mild sort of aphasiac, until last night, when I watched 30 Century Man, the intriguing 2008 documentary about celebrated pop enigma Scott Walker, just out on DVD.
Buried deep in the DVD extras were out-takes from the filmmaker's interview with Brian Eno. "Fortunately, I have the talent of filtering out lyrics — I just don't hear them," says the great man. "For me, lyrics in most songs are a way of just getting the voice to do something. I like voices." My sentiments exactly. Lyrics are just to get the singer psyched to sing.
In fact, listening to the lyrics as narrative is antithetical to the complete experience of music. It's like reading the newspaper while a Coltrane record is playing. It takes you out of the music.
Funny thing is, I loved Scott Walker's 2006 album The Drift, even though it is absolutely word-intensive and virtually devoid of the things that most excite me: hooks, riffs, beats. Walker's voice is riveting all by itself and that helps. But his lyrics are as sensational, in the true sense of the word, as any great riff or cracking-good guitar solo. And, as Eno points out, their effect is just as ineffable.
"In Scott's songs," Eno goes on to say, "lyrics actually draw you further and further into the music. They're so rich and full of ambiguity that they actually withstand listening to again and again — like music does. They don't spell it out for you, so you haven't solved the problem in the first two listens.... It's not to do with telling someone something, it's making something happen to someone. Which is what you do with music as well. Nobody ever says, 'I wonder what the music means' — you either feel it or you don't. I think the same should be true of lyrics — you shouldn't have to think that you somehow flip into a different part of your brain when you listen to lyrics."
Does anybody else hear music this way?
When is a shaky, under-rehearsed performance even better than a polished, high-octane explosion by an artist who is beyond iconic? When it's September 13, 1969, and John Lennon finds himself in the unenviable position of having to follow Little Richard at the Toronto Peace Festival.
Little Richard's set, as documented in the newly released DVD Live at the Toronto Peace Festival 1969, was of course a ripsnorter. But there's more to the story than just an incendiary rock & roll show.
The set was filmed in glorious 16mm by legendary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back, Monterey Pop), for what became Sweet Toronto, a documentary about the entire 13-hour evening also featuring Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley and the Plastic Ono Band. (Rounding out the bill but not in the film: Gene Vincent, Doug Kershaw, Screaming Lord Sutch, the Doors, the Chicago Transit Authority, Tony Joe White, Alice Cooper and an outfit known as Cat Mother and the All-Night Newsboys.)
You don't see it so much in the Little Richard film but in Sweet Toronto (currently out of print), Pennebaker makes a point of showing this is a contemporary audience of hippie kids — long-haired, probably high, rolling around and groping each other on the stadium field, they'd come to protest the war in Vietnam.
But Little Richard hailed from another era. He hadn't had a hit in more than a decade and, to understate it wildly, the culture had changed in that time: It was the difference between Leave It to Beaver and Easy Rider. Traditional rock & roll was on the wane: That spring, the Who had released a rock opera called Tommy and prog rockers Genesis, Yes and King Crimson — nothing could be further from Little Richard — all released debuts that year. But Elvis was making a comeback, doo-woppers Sha Na Na had been a highlight of Woodstock a month earlier and Creedence Clearwater Revival was taking classic rock & roll to the toppermost of the poppermost. Some hipsters were even beginning to champion the old stuff (and perhaps providing the first very distant glimmerings of punk rock). Toronto was billed as a "rock & roll revival," and it's now regarded as the first; the trend exploded in the early '70s.
Big-time rock & roll fan John Lennon had been invited simply to host the show, but then at almost literally the last minute he decided to play it, and rounded up a few heavy friends — Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, future Yes drummer Alan White and Yoko Ono — to play as the Plastic Ono Band. Only thing was, that upset the billing – now Little Richard would have to play before Lennon. His gloriously massive ego wounded, Richard had to scorch the earth before the bounteously bearded Beatle, who had copped so much from Little Richard (among others), in the process winning previously unimaginable honors, power, riches, fame, and the love of women.
The show begins when Richard strides out with his preposterous pompadour and gigolocious pencil mustache, his face slathered in makeup; he's resplendent in a brilliant white singlet covered in little square mirrors, like a discofied Prince Valiant. It's only when he asks for the stage lights to be turned off and the spotlight beamed on him and him alone that it becomes clear that the outfit is part of the light show — he's a human mirror ball, luminous spots flitting behind him like fireflies. And if you look closely enough into those little mirrors you can see the reflections of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, who gleaned their defiant, flamboyant style... from Little Richard.
Richard and the band knock out "Lucille" in a frantic trance, the horn men in their baby-blue suits nodding like davening priests. Richard's unaccompanied intro to "Good Golly Miss Molly" is as definitive rock & roll as you're ever going to hear, a brief but potent burst of bawdy technique that evokes rollicking Nawlins better than a jambalaya fight in a whorehouse. Soon, he's up on the piano, beaming a 1,000-watt smile and shaking his moneymaker, holding up his fabulous white go-go boots for all to see. He throws one into the audience, then really milks it, taking his sweet time to throw the second boot. It's great showmanship. "Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at the true rock & roll! The 1956 rock & roll!" he hollers pointedly. Then he gets the ladies in the crowd to go "Wooooo!" and the fellas to go "Huh!" He really is going to make this pale English whippersnapper Lennon pay dearly.
"Rip It Up" is only a minute long, So he plays it again. And then once more. It's utterly shameless — and utterly brilliant.
During "Jenny, Jenny" Richard brings up some folks from the audience: a couple of cute white hippie chicks and an African-American fellow who evidently patronized Jimi Hendrix's tailor. "Whoever dance the best," Richard quips, "we're going to take 'em back to Africa with us!" His guests dance up a storm and so, not to be outdone, Richard takes off his singlet, revealing a prizefighter's body, and swings it around his head like a helicopter, teasing the audience until he finally flings it into the baying throng. Then it's a hyperspeed "Long Tall Sally," and the band plays Richard off the stage in a hell-bent burst of adrenalized rave-up.
It's a nine-song, barely 28-minute set. One of rock & roll's greatest live performers, the one and only Little Richard, had just pulled out all the stops. Imagine following that.
So Lennon was understandably nervous: it was the first time he'd played on stage in three years, essentially the first time he'd ever played live without at least one of the other Beatles, and his band had rehearsed precisely once – acoustically, on the plane to the show — and now they were going to play in front of 20,000 people with sky-high expectations. To top it off, he was on a bill that included most of his major influences and now he had to follow his idol Little Richard at his barn-burning best. Oh, and he'd just decided that day to quit the Beatles. According to Eric Clapton's autobiography, Lennon did so much cocaine before the show that he threw up.
To calm down his petrified guest, emcee (and notorious rock Zelig) Kim Fowley got the lights turned off in the stadium and asked everyone to light a match, allegedly the first time this had been done at a rock show. With Ono rolling around the stage in a large duffel bag, the Plastic Ono Band slopped their way through a trio of ragged-but-right rock & roll covers straight from the Cavern days, Lennon's voice steadily gaining in ferocity and confidence. "Yer Blues" and the debut of the harrowing detox chronicle "Cold Turkey" are right in the vein of the direct, stripped-down approach Lennon would embrace for many years, as rock & roll as anything else played that day.
There's an obligatory "Give Peace a Chance" before Lennon famously announces "Yoko's going to do her thing all over you" and the band locks into a lock-groove power-blooz riff under Yoko's anguished avant vocalizing on "Don't Worry Kyoko" and then "John, John, Let's Hope for Peace"; on the latter, Clapton and Lennon conjure caterwhauling feedback that anticipated what Sonic Youth and others would do fifteen years later. The guitarists eventually just leaned their instruments against the amps so they made an eerie, awesome squall; White gamely contributed some occasional icky thumps.
It took me very many years to appreciate it, but Yoko's performance is electrifying. "Don't Worry Kyoko" is about the pain of missing her daughter, who was basically kidnapped by her ex-husband; "John, John, Let's Hope for Peace" came just as Vietnam was hitting its horrific peak. It's a performance of staggering emotional nakedness and complete commitment, not to mention creative invention. It both sent chills up my spine and made me, I have to confess, a little teary. The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail remarked, "It sounded as if she was crying, like a child, in fear." Yeah, exactly.
Even pre-Janov, Lennon and Ono were screaming out their pain — just as Little Richard was. But towering genius that he is, Little Richard was of and about a different time. Amid cataclysmic social strife, devastating assassinations, disorienting technological upheaval and savage, unwarranted war, the Plastic Ono Band spoke to the fierce urgency of now.
No way anyone would want to follow that. Instead of Little Richard, that daunting honor went to the Doors, who at that time were on top of the world. By at least one account, they kicked ass.
[Full disclosure: Shout Factory, who released the Little Richard DVD, also released the DVD of a film I co-produced called Kurt Cobain About a Son.]
I just came back from the Museum of Modern Art and a screening of Fabricando Tom Zé, a documentary about the brilliant and idiosyncratic Brazilian composer, one of the founders of the fantastic and fascinating Tropicalia movement of the '60s. (eMusic has a lot of his incredible music, and I suggest you check out some of it forthwith.)
After being a key player in the Tropicalia scene, Zé languished for years, working at a gas station, until 1989, when David Byrne discovered his music by accident at a Rio record store and signed him to his new label, Luaka Bop – only then did Brazil, and the world, realize what it had.
A verité film pegged to a summer 2005 European tour, Fabricando is patchy with its biographical detail – we visit the schoolroom Zé attended as a child, for instance, but get little sense of his sophisticated musical education and development. But that kind of stuff you can read about elsewhere – the real attraction of the film is getting so close to such a character, and since director Decio Matos, Jr., is a good friend of Zé's, it's very close. Zé's an eccentric bird, prone to statements like "The bird that sings too much craps in his own nest" and lecturing the camera to look both ways before crossing the street. I loved how he described the audience at one show, fanned out in a vast, steep old ampitheatre, as "7,000 people set out as if they were a continuation of your belly." His dour wife/manager seems to provide some semblance of grounding, but even she begins weeping at a poorly received show.
Zé is charming in a loopy way, but he certainly can be petulant too – witness an epic shit-fit he throws at soundcheck at the Montreux Jazz Festival, claiming that he is not being respected; this very small, very slight man proves so intimidating that he manages to bully the hulking soundman right off the stage. And yet he also shows a very credible and droll self-effacing quality too. The piano and the vacuum cleaner (he famously used the latter in some of his early work), Zé protests near the beginning of the movie, are not that different to someone who is not that good at music. Later, he says he only makes music so that "when the geniuses come, they will have something to work with."
At 70, Zé is still very restless and you're continually wondering what he'll do or say next, which pretty much simulates the curiosity that clearly courses through his own mind. It's an inspiring and thought-provoking film, and if it comes to the proverbial theatre near you, jump on it.
I recently went to the Principality of Monaco to present About a Son at the Monaco Music Film Festival.
Just two square miles in area and nestled on a steep slope created by the Alps sliding into the blue, blue Mediterranean, Monaco is kind of like a cross between Beverly Hills and Miami Beach plunked down into the Cote d'Azur, with palm trees, pastel buildings and the pervasive cleanliness that comes with astonishing prosperity. There were plenty of old Mediterranean-style villas everywhere, but they're slowly disappearing, replaced one-by-one by tall, characterless apartment buildings. There are construction cranes everywhere you look. It's sad, there doesn't seem to be anyone looking out for the old architecture. Pretty soon the place will have no character whatsoever.
The Grand Prix de Monaco would happen the following week, and large stretches of the town were lined with grandstands full of blue seats, the streets lined with tightly lashed-together stacks of tires. It's hard to imagine cars whipping through these narrow, curving streets at almost any speed; it must be a thrill to watch.
There were ultra-luxury cars everywhere: Bentleys, Maseratis, Rolls Royces, Ferraris… I even saw a Maybach, a car that costs a half a million dollars. I saw an ultra-rare DeLorean too, which was actually kind of a thrill. In Monaco, a Mercedes-Benz is like a Hyundai. The marinas were filled with absolutely massive yachts, gleaming white like capped teeth. There were virtually no stores that didn't sell high-end clothing, watches, perfume or jewelry, and the restaurants were uniformly exorbitant; the breakfast buffet at my hotel, the fancy-schmancy Hermitage, was 35 euros, or over $40.
On my first, jet-lagged day there I did a little exploring and went for a walk uphill. Interestingly, that's where the poor people live, maybe because the streets are so steep that rich people avoid them. There were little grocery stores and other shops for people of normal means, kids playing in the street, laundry hanging from lines – you know, normal life. It was pleasant and old and peaceful up there. I went back that evening and had a nice, relatively affordable meal – fish Provençale, washed down with a nice local rosé. People smoked like chimneys throughout their meals, though, and that sucked.
This was the first annual Monaco Music Film Festival, and they were just getting their act together. I did get the cinematic version of a soundcheck, but the projectionist did not know English and the person doing the translation couldn't stick around. So I did the best I could with my ultra-minimal grasp of French, completely pulling words out of my derriere. "Les couleurs, le saturation, c'est tres important." "Le son…" and then I would point my finger in the air in an upward motion. "Le blanc c'est trop chaud." "L'image… plus grande?" And it worked!
The screening was on Thursday, so I had the next few days completely free. I went to the Princess Grace Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Jardin Exotique (a beautifully landscaped hillside grove of hundreds of differents kinds of cacti and succulents, many of which were in bloom) which also included a tour of a cave, and the aquarium, which I later learned is situated directly above Monaco's prison, which I assume is filled with welching gamblers, still in their tuxes and bowties. The weather was glorious throughout, but then knowing Monaco someone probably paid good money for that weather.
One night there was a gala cocktail reception for the filmmakers in the glorious lobby of the Casino de Monte Carlo. Wow, what a gorgeous place, just sumptuous, with high ceilings and ornate moldings and gilding everywhere. (The accompanying crappy photo barely does it justice.) There, I met Prince Albert II, who is a very nice fellow. Turns out he was a summer camp counselor in Moultonborough, New Hampshire, which is very close to where my dad has had a cabin for many years, so we talked about that for a bit and I mentioned how much I enjoyed Rear Window and that I saw a resemblance in him to his mother, which made his face brighten quite a bit. He was interested in seeing the movie, too, and I'll see he gets a copy. The next day he arrived at a screening all by himself, pulling up in an anonymous Toyota. I can report that Prince Albert II of Monaco is an excellent parker.
Naturally, the filmmakers all bonded, if only because we couldn't really relate to anyone else at the festival, or in Monaco. I had some really nice times with UC Berkeley journalism professor Jon Else, a really cool guy who screened the very striking documentary Wonders Are Many: The Making of Doctor Atomic about John Adams and Peter Sellars' opera about the genesis of the hydrogen bomb, and Cecilia Peck and Barbara Kopple (in the photo with me), who did Shut Up and Sing, the documentary about the Dixie Chicks. They are all nice folks, not to mention super-sharp and talented, and I'm glad and honored to have made their acquaintance.
The final evening was the gala dinner at the exquisite dining room of the Hermitage Hotel. John Barry, who was being honored at the festival, had fallen ill and couldn't come to Monaco. Earlier, I had noticed a handsome woman of a certain age during cocktails on the terrace overlooking the marina. Turns out it was Claudine Auger, a former Miss France who played a Bond girl in Thunderball (1965), and she accepted an award for Barry with a droll bilingual speech. She's quite a character, kind of like Diane Keaton but, you know, European. Celeste Holm (All About Eve, Gentlemen's Agreement) was also there, accompanied by her vastly younger husband, an outgoing, large-featured guy who I would bet the house sings in musicals, or tried to. (OK, I just looked him up and he's 46 years younger -- and an opera singer! Can I call 'em or what?) It was all extremely high-class, with a belly dancer providing pre-dinner entertainment, and a Provençal Gypsy Kings-ish band playing afterwards.
I got up at 4:30 in the morning, got a car to the airport at Nice, and was back in my apartment in New York by 2:00 PM. I missed my cat, Mr. Peabody, and he missed me.
The next morning, AJ and I did a live three-minute interview with a local TV station; the reporter was goofy and hyperactive, which was particularly unamusing at the ungodly hour of 7:40 AM.
With a few hours off before the next interview, I visited the Denver Art Museum, with its new wing – Daniel Libeskind's Frank Gehry-wannabe installation, a tangle of inept metallic origami. Inside the place was full of Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-like angles, ungainly, impractical and claustrophobic. The credulous burghers of Denver, provincial as can be, clearly fell for a bill of goods sold by the slick New York architect. Ironically, New York would never put up with such an abomination. Quoth the museum's web site: "'I was inspired by the light and the geology of the Rockies, but most of all by the wide-open faces of the people of Denver,' says Libeskind." Um, Dan, by wide-open faces, did you mean "unbelievable gullibility?"
Inside, the place was littered with fatuous contemporary art collected by over-endowed rubes, in addition to a smattering of third-rate Picasso, Gris, DeKooning, Mitchell, Leger, et al., as well as a negligible and unfocussed collection of Japanese art by a couple who had apparently kissed up enough to Andy Warhol for him to paint their portraits; on other floors there was a bland hodgepodge of Asians, Indians, Native Americans and other swarthy exotics. Even the James Turrell piece Trace Elements was second-rate by his lofty standards, but it was still the best thing in the museum: a pitch-dark 20' x 30' room in which a pair of dim amber lights gradually became visible. Tucked in an obscure corner of the old wing of the museum, it was visited by no one else for the entire 20 minutes I was there. A couple by the name of Logan claimed a large room for their collection, mostly glib, facile stuff from younger Asian and European artists, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and they had somehow blundered into the work of German painter Neo Rauch, (born 1960) whose burnished palette, evocative mise-en-scenes and graceful sense of form I shall definitely investigate further.
AJ and I did some more interviews, and although there were no major national media outlets there, it gave us the opportunity to hone our schtick some more. We make a good team, freely borrowing whatever good ideas either one has come up with during previous interviews; that way, we always get in all our points. We did an interview with some students at a school of broadcast journalism – their first interviews ever. Our interviewer was so nervous that she asked us the same question three times within the space of fifteen minutes, which made for some awkward moments, but we dealt with it smoothly. I also had to tell her the name for what she was experiencing – "red light fever" – three times as well. But they were nice, so all was good.
The screening that evening went well – as ever, people laughed in the right places and the Q&A was good. One guy asked, with a small hint of insinuation, whether Courtney had seen the movie. That kind of got me annoyed and I pointed out that she would be listening, for an hour and a half, to the voice of her dead husband – you know, the one who committed suicide? – and that understandably it could be some time before she would work up the courage to watch the film. People don't seem to think these things through. All this guy knew was, Courtney is a litigious ogre and he wanted to make a little gotcha point. I kept my composure in my reply but it was probably readily apparent that I thought the guy was a callous idiot in need of a good thumping.
Afterwards, there was a special late-night club set up for filmmakers and AJ and I headed there and had a glass of wine. While we were talking, some guy fainted; I was about ten feet away and even so I felt the impact of his head hitting the concrete floor. He was unconscious, with his eyes open, for about a minute. Someone even checked his pulse – it was scary. Then he came to, and he didn't seem to realize he'd been out. He was a healthy young guy, not drunk or high, just dehydrated, tired and probably suffering a little altitude sickness. He refused an ambulance first but I knelt down beside him and told him that he'd knocked his head really hard and sometimes these things have a delayed reaction, often a matter of hours, and some people have dropped dead like that, like the late Allman Brothers bassist Berry Oakley. Then he accepted the ambulance.
It was time to go home. AJ and I said our goodbyes – this was our last press trip for a while – and I headed back to the Jet Hotel for a fitful night's sleep.
Arrived in the Mile-High City on Thursday for About a Son screenings at the Denver Film Festival. I was scheduled to do a phone interview with WNYC about the inglorious aspects of touring that afternoon but the timing was tight – I'd have to get to my hotel room as soon as possible because the station requires that phoners be done on a land line; unfortunately, the driver that the festival had scheduled for me didn't show up at the airport and I waited until I couldn't wait anymore and then took a taxi. I got to the hotel in the nick of time, starting the interview virtually as soon as I walked in the door of my room. It went great – got to tell the story of J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr getting upset about his bandmate Lou Barlow sucking on the eyeball of a Muppet doll.
The Jet Hotel is one of that new breed of hipster boutique hotels, but, this being Denver, it wasn't that hip. Their notion of cool is to put red lights in the elevator. But the hotel did thoughtfully provide a cable for hooking up an iPod to the little stereo system. One afternoon before heading out I rocked some Minor Threat. The person next door banged on the connecting door between our rooms, which made me feel really nostalgic.
The festival's opening night dinner was held in a massive room within the city's sprawling entertainment complex. Gigantic, spot-lit floral arrangements claimed the center of each of about 100 tables, and a string quartet on a platform in the middle of the room played everything from the Addams Family theme to Pachelbel's Canon. (Sorry for the blury photo...) I thought it was a party just for the filmmakers, but most of the people arriving were dressed to the nines, and looked like corporate types, ladies who lunch and the red-faced, steak-fed men who subsidize them. I have never seen so many sparkly dresses in one place. It was basically so people who gave a lot of money to the festival could be in the same room with people who are genuinely artistic. Naturally, we filmmakers were banished to the outer tables, the ghetto of the room, and the pillars of Denver society enjoyed pride of place.
We had a very cool table, though, which made up for the overcooked surf 'n' turf we were served – there was a young guy from Brooklyn named Arturo who had made an acclaimed short film called Man Up about a Green Beret who practices some extraordinarily tough love on his son, and a couple of laconic but charming brothers named Aaron and Adam Nee who made a film with the apparently self-explanatory title of The Last Romantic. I'd bump into all of them constantly over the next couple of days; it was as if we were the only three filmmakers in the whole festival.
Afterwards there was the US premiere of Anthony Minghella's (The Talented Mr. Ripley, The English Patient) upcoming movie Breaking and Entering, which seemed to be the event of the season among Denver's bourgeousie. Minghella even received an award from the mayor, and I'm sure that hd something to do with the heavy hand of the Weinsteins, who produced the film – "Lissen, we'll let you have da premiere of dis movie if you give our Limey friend here an award… Got it?" Do yourself a favor and see something else instead -- The Lady from Shanghai for example. This was self-absorbed, implausible, pompous stuff, the product of someone whose ballooning self-regard has clearly gotten the better of him. I walked out after giving it a good fighting chance for an hour. I'm sure Denver's ruling class gave it a standing ovation.
The About a Son screenings at the big AFI festival went really well! They were at the ArcLight in Hollywood, an excellent complex with stadium seating, lots of legroom, a huge screen, top-notch sound, and dark chocolate at the snack bar; there's a bar/restaurant in the lobby. In the men's room there's a full-length mirror -- with tivoli lights. That's LA for you.
It was sold out and once again, virtually everybody stayed for the Q&A. People really get this movie and seem to be truly moved by it, which means that even though it's somewhat experimental, the experiment works.
AJ, Steve Fisk and I also did a few interviews – those guys are both extremely articulate, so no one's going to be hurting for good soundbites. We talked to AOL, the Reelz channel, Film Threat, the AFI channel, a really cool lady who asked about the meaning the film can have for teenagers, and a bunch of other folks I can't even remember. It's fun and a pleasure to talk about a project I'm so happy with and proud of, but wow, it's exhausting to stay on point for so many hours. I gained a renewed respect for all the people I've interviewed over the years. It really takes a lot of stamina and concentration.
Then we did this weird thing where you walk through this room on a wide platform and get photographed and quickly interviewed by different newspapers, cable channels and photo agencies. It's like a promotional perp walk. Heather Graham was just ahead of us, and she looked unreal -- not unreal as in unbelievably gorgeous (although she was that) but unreal as in not real. Was it a person or a 3-D Photoshop project? That's LA for you too.
The AFI festival HQ is a series of three huge white plastic hogans on the top of a parking garage near the hotel, with a wonderful view of downtown LA and West Hollywood in the distance; the air pollution-fueled sunset was spectacular every evening.
All the tents have bars and schmoozing areas; one hosts private parties, another has a photo studio and some other stuff. In the clearing in the middle they inexplicably had a couple of fancy Audi cars on spotlit display. That's, again, LA for you.
I stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel, a hipster place on Hollywood Boulevard, which is kind of the 42nd Street of LA -- tons of cheesy touristy stores, restaurants and "museums." (I use the term loosely.) This was the view from my room. Swanky, right? The hotel has a nightclub on the bottom floor on weekend nights and the noise reached up to my fourth-floor room. As late as 1:30 in the morning, the music was so loud it sounded like someone in the room below me was constantly dropping a safe on the floor. Ridiculous!
Arrived in Toronto for the premiere of the Cobain movie. It's a funny place -- everyone is from the city but not of the city. The amateurish local news led this evening with a story about a tai chi parade in midtown, soon followed by a story about a man who led local police on a high-speed chase – "at speeds up to 90 km an hour!" the anchorwoman raved breathlessly, even though that's only 55 mph. As the accused, a wild-eyed piece of trailer-trash, was driven away in a police car, he stuck his tongue out at the cameras, which is something I have never seen before.
Half of the faces I see are people of color, and virtually all of them have accents hailing far from the land of the maple leaf. That's a great thing for such a static, homogenous place; it's becoming an interesting country, and it'll be fascinating to see what the next twenty years brings here.
But Toronto, as cosmopolitan as it is, still provides a high-relief backdrop for the slick film types who have temporarily taken over the city for the duration of the festival. The movie people all seem to dress entirely in black -- the men tend to be chiseled young white guys with expensive short hair and strangely even tans, grinning with a suave smugness, the women tousled and pampered but with a touch of high-end mall-slut. What a bunch of grasping phonies. These people make me wretch.
I saw a bunch of the black-clad movie types at an overpriced, overrated restaurant called Bistro 990. Reputedly the peak of Toronto sophistication, the joint dishes out an oily, oversweet "salade de maison" and an overcooked slab of halibut perched atop a muddle of mealy potato chunks. Ugh, this next few days could be awful. Then again, it might be quite fun.