Letter From LA: 04-01-2021

Posted on April 3, 2021
Filed Under Culture, Music, People, Politics | Leave a Comment

Bob Dylan turns 80 on May 14, 2021, and in honor of this anniversary, I’ve decided to listen to every Dylan album I can get my hands on (I have about 25 on CD and vinyl; the rest I’ll listen to via Amazon Music Unlimited); watch every documentary and feature I can get access to (“Don’t Look Back,” “I’m Not There,” “No Direction Home,” “Rolling Thunder Revue”), and read — or re-read — as much as I can (“POSITIVELY 4th Street,” “Chronicles, Volume One,” “Another Side of Bob Dylan: A Personal History on the Road and off the Tracks,” “Why Dylan Matters”). Dylan is the true king of rock and pop (roll over Elvis, tell Michael the news) both in his music, his influence on pop culture … and his staying power. What set me off was reading Nat Hentoff’s New Yorker article “The Crackin’, Shakin’, Breakin’ Sounds” from Oct. 24, 1964 (anthologized in “The 60s: The Story of a Decade”) in which he followed Dylan as he recorded his fourth album. Dylan is a true American mythmaker, and it really comes out in this article — you just don’t know what’s true and what’s made up. By the way, other 80th birthdays this year: Ringo Starr, Tom Jones, Al Pacino, Neil Diamond, Dionne Warwick, Nancy Sinatra, Martin Sheen, Raquel Welch, Nick Nolte, James Brolin, Faye Dunaway, Joan Baez, Herbie Hancock, Sam Waterston, and Bill Medley.

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I read the news today, oh boy:

CBSN and the Los Angeles Times summed up recently what many scientists have been talking about for months: The long-term effects of COVID-19 that some people experience. These include: fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint pain, chest pain, muscle pain, headache, intermittent fever, fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations), rashes, hair loss, smell and taste problems, sleep issues. On the psychological front, many people who have recovered from COVID-19 have reported feeling not like themselves: experiencing short-term memory loss, difficulty with thinking, confusion, an inability to concentrate, and just feeling differently (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”). That sounds like some Republicans I know.

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I usually don’t take afternoon naps, but for some reason today, while watching my latest go-to-streaming-series-so-as-not-to-think, the French “Profilage” (translated as “Profiling” but called “The Paris Murders” on Amazon Prime), I dozed off on the living room couch. I dreamt about several of my dead friends: Jim, Mark and Rusty.

The summer after we graduated from high school, Jim and I would cruise around town looking to meet girls. We still dated girls from high school — in fact, once we double-dated with two of the most beautiful girls from our graduating class but, as if in a JD Salinger story — we got too drunk and threw up. But the prospects of “more mature” women tantalized us, and we drove wherever rumors hinted at wayward women and easy girls. We drove as far as Lake Piru in the hopes of scoring. But we always came home alone.

I met Mark and Rusty at Santa Monica City College (now just Santa Monica College) after I flunked out of UCLA. Mark was six-feet-tall, red-headed with freckles, and walked around wearing an Abe Lincoln stovepipe hat; he was an impressive sight to see. Mark was a true 1960s outlier: he was a political humanist and about as anti-authoritarian as anyone I knew in that era, but was also intellectually inquisitive and emotionally warm. Days at SMCC we organized a Students for a Democratic Society chapter; nights we got stoned and would drive to the Kaleidoscope (which eventually became the Aquarius Theatre and then the home to Nickelodeon) in Hollywood, where we saw Iron Butterfly, Canned Heat, The Fugs, Moby Grape and Rhinoceros among other archetypal 1960s acts. We tried to change the world and succeeded.


I met Rusty while at SMCC; he kind of hung around with some of the SDS students but politics was not his forte; he was immersed in the conspiracies surrounding the JFK assassination. Rusty hailed from Texas and had met and befriended Penn Jones Jr., editor of the Midlothian (Texas) Mirror and author of one of the original Kennedy conspiracy bibles, “Forgive My Grief.” His family had money — his dad was an executive with Ronson Corp. and they had a comfortable home on a tree-lined street north of Montana Avenue in Santa Monica — but I remember Rusty as the prototype 1960s hippie — pot, sex, psychedelics. Rusty taught me the joys of sitting in the front seat of a car on a sun-bright street on a warm summer day, swigging RC Cola and chain-smoking cigarettes. There’s really nothing quite like that high. Rusty later traveled across the US in the 1970s with a slide show on the JFK assassination and became quite a celebrity on college campuses. RC Cola is not that easy to find in LA, but when I do, I’m tempted to buy a bottle in honor of Rusty.

Try as I might, I just couldn’t remember any of the particulars of my dream. But it sure was good to see my old friends again.

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I read the news today, oh boy, part 2:

Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp. and the Republican-led Georgia state legislature pushed through a strict new voting rights law last week that makes it tougher to cast votes — as a response to a surge in Democratic votes and the election of two Democratic senators last November and January. The voting system in Georgia was AOK when Trump was elected in 2016 — why change it now? To make it harder for people of color in under-served areas, who vote Democratic, to use absentee or mail-in ballots to cast their votes. The law makes it harder to use mail-in ballots, limits the number of ballot drop box locations, and makes it a crime to offer food or water to voters waiting in lines.

Several corporations based in Atlanta — including Delta, Porsche, Home Depot and Coca-Cola,  some that have supported Kemp and Republicans in the past — have criticized Georgia’s new law … but are keeping quiet on whether they will continue making donations to Republicans who support the law. Additionally, Major League Baseball is considering moving this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta to a different location.

Other states also have restrictive voting legislation in the pipeline, including Arizona, Florida and Texas; Iowa has already passed one. Their motto: “Welcome back Jim Crow.”

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