The first time I ever heard George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” was in the car with my dad on the night of June 17th, 1994. He had picked me up at the beach after dark. He was pissed. He’s the kinda guy that is always a little pissed, but, he was like, suuuuper pissed at me that night.

I had called from a payphone (it was 1994) all casual about, you know, being barely 15 and burning things at a bonfire on the beach with my friend all day by ourselves (it was 1994) but of course I hadn’t actually planned a ride home (it was 1994), and he needed to drive for 25 minutes, after working all day, to pick me up. I probably waited by myself to get picked up, or maybe waited with my friend, I don’t recall. I think often about my own students now, both high school and college aged, and how they can’t fathom being without their phone because of a scenario exactly like this. And then I think of how much time I must have spent between the ages of 13-15 calling from payphones, waiting to get picked up somewhere.

June 17th 1994 was a Friday. It was my last day of 9th grade. I didn’t go to school that day. It was the tradition at my school to not attend the last day, or, perhaps, my friends and I invented this tradition. I had been 15 for about a month. I can say confidently that the prior year was pretty much my worst as a person (yet?), which, I feel, is the case for most of the human species as that specific age. And so, with this in mind, June 17th 1994 was the day my friend Jan and I, aged 15, went to the beach to burn things.

I didn’t have any reason to think about that particular day for quite a long time. But, a few years ago, I was leading a writing workshop for incarcerated teen girls, and we were talking about moments when you realized someone saw you in a different way, when your relationship with someone shifted. Suddenly, that evening, and my dad picking me up at the beach all pissed off, came back to me with astounding precision.

To clarify a few details: “helicopter parenting” was not a thing for my parents, and I am immensely grateful for that. While I can’t imagine, for example, letting my almost 13 year old niece attend a concert with just her friend at the age she is now, even though I did so at that age, I have no doubt that my inability to even question whether I should do something – anything – by myself or not (answer: always do it) comes from a strong sense of independence afforded to me at a very young age. And, likewise, my friend, the child of immigrants who worked very hard and likewise probably had no choice but to give their daughters quite a bit of latitude to do their own thing (this was the same friend that taught me to drive that summer, both of us 15, in her mom’s minivan, in a Target parking lot…), was always up for things that, now, as an adult who teaches kids, seem kinda crazy to let kids do alone. Things like burning stuff by yourself at the beach when you are literally the worst age that a human being can be.

Further details: by burning things, I mean a beach bonfire. A bonfire in the morning, afternoon, evening: it didn’t matter. We had taken up this hobby sometime around 7th grade and it was one of our. favorite. things. to. do. We invented a game called ‘fire baseball’ that involved flaming wadded up balls of newspaper and ‘batting’. Use your imagination. The things we burned were, primarily, for this end of school year ritual at least, all of our school work, and effigies of people we felt wronged us. We had a special vendetta for a school security officer, who, as an educator looking back now, was completely unnecessary at a very small magnet school made up of nerds that literally had almost no disciplinary issues. He was probably bored out of his mind, and would look for minor infractions the way a parking cop might look for meters expired by a minute. So, naturally, we drew pictures of him, and then burned them. Straight up voodoo before we even had Google to know that.

But, of course, June 17th 1994 wasn’t just the last day of my freshman year when my friend and I burned effigies and failed math quizzes at the beach and I pissed off my dad. It would turn out to be the day that this guy who had been in the news all week was suppose to turn himself into LAPD and didn’t. I was home alone for part of that day, my younger siblings at school, my parents at work. KROQ was on all morning as I prepared my bag of fire offerings, and I can distinctly remember bits and pieces of reporting throughout the day. It didn’t all completely register with my 15 year old brain, but I was a kid that watched the news and paid attention, and judging by the near constant updates happening, I knew it was a big deal.

I don’t remember how I got to the beach that day, likely Jan conned one of her parents into taking us. We went to the far southern end of Huntington Beach, I remember this because I told my dad, when I called him from a payphone to get picked up, that I was by “the entrance near the surfer statue”, and he said I was practically in San Diego. (not true) Also: did my parents even know where I was? I assume they did, but again, details get fuzzy.

I remember nothing of that specific day at the beach, or at least, anything that stood out from a normal day of burning shit at the beach for us, other than we had a radio, and there was this frenzy around this guy turning himself in, the reading on air of what people were saying was a suicide note (Cobain was still fresh in our minds), and then the reporting of this slow speed car chase. That would have gotten our attention – I had watched the 1992 riots unfold, saw Reginald Denny get dragged from his truck on live TV, two years prior. Two years after the OJ chase, I watched as one of the gunmen was fatally shot on live TV during the North Hollywood shoot out. This was the era of sensational live news reporting; the crowds that would soon come to watch Simpson drive by slowly were in no doubt drawn by the insane amount of media coverage. When The People vs OJ aired a few years back, my college students were fascinated by that detail – people rushing the freeway and having signs seemingly cheering on the slow speed chase. They didn’t believe it really happened.

At some point, satisfied with our burnings and likely cold (June gloom is no joke!) I called to get picked up. My dad arrived, pissed, listening to Jim Ladd on 97.1, the classic rock station of that time. Ladd had been on the air in LA since the late 1960s, my dad listening to him pretty much since then, and likewise, I did, too. And this is where, in the way that the mind works, a very specific single detail can bring back the memory of an entire day.

Ladd reported on the chase that was still going on, or perhaps, had just ended at Simpson’s house. He then said something that stayed with me all these years later, and while I can’t quote it exactly, it was to the effect that there really was nothing to say about what had happened. The whole thing was a damn shame: people cheering on the side of the road while two people were murdered, and another man was suicidal, two kids without a mom, a police department no one trusted, and media making a frenzy of it all. Then, without introduction, he played a song I had never heard.

“Isn’t it a pity

Now, isn’t it a shame

How we break each other’s hearts

And cause each other pain

How we take each other’s love

Without thinking anymore

Forgetting to give back

Isn’t it a pity”

You know how sometimes you hear a song, for the first time, and are like ‘what is THIS’? That was me in the car with my pissed off dad that night.

I was obsessive about music from about the ages of 12 to 16. I knew my parent’s generation of music as well as I knew my own. I knew artists and albums the way people know sports stats. But I had never heard this song, and naturally at 15, I thought I had heard EVERYTHING. I also didn’t really know who Simpson was – I was too young, never that into sports and certainly not football. Never saw Naked Gun. So the context of it all – this song that felt so bittersweet and nostalgic and heavy and that introduction and this news coverage, it was all over my head, but I also was cognizant enough to know it was a big deal.

My dad pretty much always treated me like a little adult. His thing was, and is, ‘free will’ – you are ultimately going to do whatever you want, so it’s best to prepare you to make decent decisions as you do whatever you want. As a little kid, I’d stay up and watch SNL with him, according to my mom. Free will over sleep! But he was conscious about innocence in other ways. I read the morning paper probably from the time I was in fifth or sixth grade. My father almost always got to it before me, though, and some mornings, I’d pick it up to find an article cut out and gone. I’d press my mom on the issue until she gave in; “it was about a sad murder your dad didn’t want you to read about”, or, you know, “you don’t need to know what Pee-Wee Herman got arrested for”.

So, on that night of June 17th 1994, the song came on, and I was kinda stunned by it and confused by the news of the day and maybe in an effort to make peace with my super pissed off dad, I asked who the song was by. “George Harrison. This was the best solo album any of them ever did.” My dad was never a Beatle guy at all – much more The Allman Brothers Band type – but he’s very into the idea of unrecognized moments in artistry and other people being hacks. I must have asked why Ladd played it, and that seemed to break the ice. What followed was a conversation about what happened and how tragic the whole thing really was: two people brutally murdered, this guy who was a Heisman trophy winner and a hero by all accounts during his football days, being increasingly seen as the likely culprit. Two little kids that didn’t have a mom anymore. Families in mourning. A police department that was so corrupt (and Rampart was still yet to come) that no one trusted or believed them. How money influences justice. How you can’t wrong your way into a right. That conversation, along with the one we had about two months prior upon Kurt Cobain’s suicide, are to me the moments my perspective started to shift beyond myself to the context of the world around me. It was also when I started to see my parents are more than just my parents and as people, though I’d certainly have a long way to go on that front. And, I think, my dad started to see me as less of an obnoxious clueless kid and more of an obnoxious but not so clueless soon-to-be adult.

I brought this story up with my dad not long ago, to see if it was something I had just imagined, or if it gelled with his memory. He recalled picking me up from the beach the night of the chase, of being mostly pissed because he was likely watching it unfold and then he had to go get me. He also remembered the exact car he was driving then, because, dad brain, I guess. As of this writing, I am a year older than he was when this happened, which kind hurts my gut to think about, but such is the nature of time, and memories. I can see the years that followed, the trial, the acquittal and the media frenzy, through the perspective of someone who studies and teaches American culture and history now. I think about how all of those things shaped me in some ways. I think about watching the verdict being read live in my homeroom history class a year and half after the car chase.

And so, June 17th 1994 became, in my memory, the day my dad started to shift from cutting out articles he didn’t want me to see in the morning newspaper to talking to me on a more adult level. It was the day I discovered All Things Must Pass, another day I didn’t get kidnapped waiting in the dark for a ride home, and a day, I’d like to think, I started to see things as more than black and white, more in the shades of gray.

 


13Jul17

Took this at the end of my most recent walking tour last week (follow Los Angeles Walking Tours for more info and upcoming tours – including some I’ll be offering that focus on street photography!). I have a thing for the “solitary palm against a beat up looking building” (or, in this case, the side of an LAPD parking structure full of beat up looking patrol cars…) for as long as I can remember; something about it just seems to be iconic, reminiscent of Los Angeles of another era, I suppose. #palmtrees #losangeles #streetphotography #landscape #leica

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Photographs from the Women’s March in Los Angeles.

Didn’t hurt that it was a stunningly gorgeous day, either.


GoPro fun while waiting for the meteor shower in Joshua Tree this weekend.


Veterans Day

11Nov14

My thoughts on Veteran’s Day from a year ago…

Brande Jackson

NCIRE is the organization I have been working with for the past six months or so, while working on the John Mayer tour. We are starting back up in a few weeks, and I’m really excited to be able to continue to build support for what they do: getting vets better access to health care and support services. As a culture, we ‘thank’ our vets, but the reality is many of them struggle with their day to day needs. The stories I heard this summer from the vets that volunteered, or the vets and active duty military that stopped by to talk to us, left me stunned and angry and wishing there was more I could do. It got to a point where I realized those ‘rare’ stories of hardship and loss that vets suffer aren’t rare at all. They are, for many, the norm. It’s a cliche thing to…

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Screen printing

29Oct14

I’m taking a screen printing class this fall. I used to take a night art class almost every semester, mostly through Art Center’s night program. I’d take them for fun, to stay in a creative state of mind, learn new things…but, over the last several years, I fell out of the habit. Work, life, money, we know the drill.

This fall I decided to get back into it. There is something nice in having the discipline of a class to keep you going. It’s been fun – a way to combine a lot of what I’ve done over the years with photography/darkroom and collage. I’m into it. My friends will get tee-shirts and prints they probably don’t want, but so it goes. And, I hopefully will be able to figure out ways to bring a simple version of screen printing into the K-12 art classes I teach as well.

The prints below are from a current series I’m working on, inspired by fall in Los Angeles & Joan Didion.

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Spring Wind

27Oct14

It’s fall, yes, but I’m sorta obsessed with this song right now. I’d never heard of Greg Brown before, but recently re-watched 180° South, and caught the bit of the Jack Johnson cover of “Spring Wind” – this passage jumped out at me:

My friends are gettin older,

so I guess I must be too.

Without their loving kindness,

I don’t know what I’d do.

Oh the wine bottle’s half empty–

the money’s all spent.

And we’re a cross between our parents

and hippies in a tent.

Since then, I’ve been listening to more of Brown’s work – I’ve got a penchant for folk music, always have – it’s got a nostalgic quality to it that I really like.  So, anyway, my not-new-new-to-me discovery to share with you all. Good stuff.