Lit Rail

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Photo courtesy of The Figurehead

In 2008, I wrote the self-indulgent post below, the re-telling of an anxiety driven dream. At the time, I was skeptical of the fabled “Subway to the Sea,” I thought it would never be finished. There was much resistance to the trains/subways crossing certain areas of the Westside. Wealthy residents complained of noise and traffic issues, all the usual NIMBY stuff. Many of us felt like the resistance was really rooted in not wanting the train to deliver teeming masses of urban folks into their neighborhoods. Funny, how much has changed since 2008. For one, the teeming brown masses of the city are increasingly being pushed to the margins of the County, and out of the urban core. Most of the neighborhoods currently being gentrified are neighborhoods along the new train lines.

A couple of years ago, I went to a house flipping workshop, out of curiosity and to chuck tomatoes and rotten eggs at the pompous house flippers (not really, sadly, I behaved). The house flipper or rehab investor or whatever professional euphemism is in use, explained how he looks for homes that run along the Gold Line. His target homebuyers were hipsters wanting to live near train lines, not so much for transit purposes but because it gives them identity. He said, they want to know they can “drink in Downtown bars and catch the train home.” Doubt they are using public transit, most likely it’s uber or lyft. The only drunk people using public transit are the same drunk people that have been using it. This is not Berlin. Our current transit system was developed to help move people, workers, across the city but those workers are being displaced from their neighborhoods, and replaced by casual transit riders. Metro ridership is down.

8 years later and you can now take a train, the Expo Line, to Santa Monica from Boyle Heights (you have to switch trains, but still). The Purple Line, the O.G. “Subway to the Sea” won’t make the coast until, maybe, 2035. Guess we can’t complain that the Expo Line takes about an hour for the crosstown trip, at least it’s not a hologram.
I’ll be back in 8 more years with the next part of this story.

From 2008:
It was sometime in the future, I had recently returned to Los Angeles after a long absence. I was pleased to discover not only had the Gold Line been finished but I was told the subway to the sea was also completed. I entered the Gold Line station at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights hoping to get to the ocean. Around me the station teemed with thousands of Brown folks. I followed the masses down escalators, assuming they were headed to the platform where I could catch the train to the beach. The escalators kept going down, down, down and then I ended up wandering through a complicated Escher-esque maze of escalators and tunnels. Finally I could see this intense bright, light coming from the floor I was heading to. As the view became clearer, I see the ocean, so brilliant blue, the sand, the palm trees swaying and I can feel the ocean breeze. At a railing, Latino families stand admiring the vista and smiling. As I get closer, I make a shocking discovery. It’s not the ocean at all but a giant hologram, an extremely realistic simulation of the beach. No one around me seems to notice and I feel like that character in the Twilight Zone episode where a woman is yelling to the humans boarding a spaceship to another planet that the alien book titled “To Serve Man” is a cookbook not a manual for the betterment of humankind. I feel incredibly disappointed and let down. Worse yet, I look over and notice in between the teeming tunnels and escalators are stands for every fast food chain and long lines of people waiting to order.
Keep dreaming Los Angeles.

The Lame Post

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Old lamposts being devoured by nasturtium near Heritage Square, Lincoln Heights.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the relevancy of blogs as they seem to be decreasing in popularity from the blog frenzy of the past few years. The decrease is probably due to the amount of time needed to keep up consistent and quality posts and also due to social networking sites like Facebook. FB has definitely eating up most of my daily internet interactions and I constantly tell myself that my attention should be placed elsewhere but the lure of instant feedback along with the communal aspects of FB is strong.

Lately much of my non-computer related interests have been in the garden and as I’ve moved my computer near my garden window the siren song of the garden flora calls to me. Anyways, this is just a long roundabout musing on why my posts have decreased. It’s quite lame and sad when things get to this point but it’s predictable.

Secret Disco: Hi-NRG


Trans X-Living on Video


Stop-Wake Up


Lime-Babe Were Gonna Love Tonight

Considering the term “Chicano Oldies” is accepted and in popular use, I’d like to create a genre called “Chicano Disco.” Some favorite examples above.

In Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco, author Peter Shapiro explains how the influence of the European musicians’ love for synthesized music fundamentally changed the essence of dance music. Whereas disco used to be based on funk, live beats and real drummers bands like Kraftwerk showed there was another way to create a rhythm. The synthesizer with it’s fake handclaps, hi-hats and bass drums helped create a whole new genre of disco music: Hi-NRG.

Hi-NRG had a huge following amongst Mexicans and Chicanos in the Los Angeles area in the 1980s. It was the musical fuel for an amazing DIY scene of DJs, backyard parties and dance clubs that ruled over large sections of the city. It’s a movement that isn’t well known outside Chicano circles in Los Angeles, back then most people could not care less what was going on in our communities.

I wasn’t part of this scene but my brother was a DJ and a member of Boyz in Kontrol, one of the hundreds, if not thousands of party crews that existed at the time. The crews were responsible for organizing parties, dance contests, DJ battles and cruising (cars) spots. While punk may get a lot of credit for being a DIY scene, the disco scene of 1980s rivaled punk in it’s “let’s organize ourselves” philosophy. Unlike punk it wasn’t a political choice, the self organization was done out of sheer necessity. Our neighborhoods offered very few forms of entertainment or diversions for youth.

Towards the late 1980s, the backyard parties started attracting the attention of the authorities, and by using the excuse of minor incidents of violence, these authorities begin to systematically shutdown and target the parties. Some involved with the scene said this heavy handedness by LAPD and the sheriffs department helped to create the revival of cholos and gangs on the Eastside. During the height of the disco scene, to be a gangster or cholo was the epitome of being uncool. Kids would snicker at the site of old veteranos riding on the bus with baggy pants like some anachronistic figure of the past. The disco scene had Latino kids going from neighborhood to other neighborhoods across the city to attend parties and to battle each other on the dance floor. The rivalries that existed and any tension were quickly diffused through dancing and partying. The violence that occasionally happened at these parties was mostly due to fights over girls/boys and the usual love dramas.

When the authorities started cracking down on the party crews and cruising, the essentially were forcing teenagers with lots of energy to stay home. And who was waiting for them? The old gangs who provided them with diversionary outlets. Many of us saw this process play out in front of our eyes. I’m not saying this was the only catalyst for the upsurge in gangs but it was a significant one and gives us a few clues to how we can deal with our current gang problem. The more you try and control youth, the greater the eruption of chaos. Young people need something to do, they have a lot of energy and excitement for their new world that cannot be bottled up and funneled into a path that adults approve of. Let the kids party!

Hi-NRG is still popular among successive generations of backyard partygoers. Go to any baptism, quinceañera, wedding or birthday party on the Eastside or in the San Gabriel Valley and there will be at least one DJ set devoted to the pantheon of Chicano Disco aka Hi NRG.

Please see Pachuco 3000’s post: 30 Years of DJ Culture from East Los Angeles for further reading.

Birds on trees

I picked this blog theme from a free WordPress sharing site. I had no idea that Twitter was using the bird on a branch graphic for it’s website too or perhaps they started it using it recently? According to the designer of this blog, the graphic comes from a freeshare site. Well, it’s all fine that we’re sharing but I don’t want to be associated with Twitter so you’ll be seeing some graphic changes around here soon. Perhaps my joke nickname of “aesthetic tyrant” is more appropriate than I care to admit?

Fixed it, tried to keep with the bird on the tree theme but not sure why? Maybe I’ll change it all again soon.

Sappy Slogans

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Poster spotted in Hancock Park

I’ve always been a fan of public art especially stencils and wheat pasted posters. There’s been a long tradition of using these methods of public propaganda to promote subversive political ideas and critiques of culture. Often the graphics and posters are clever and thoughtful and the critiques they make witty and sharp. (See this video for how it’s done.) How could one not want to squat, take to the streets or run to the barricades after being inspired by such expressions of creativity?
It is within this context that I view the current crop of stencil/graff/flyposting artists here in Los Angeles and sad to say, these attempts at public art are hardly worth the mention. (Shepard Fairey? Pffft.) Most of the wheat pasted pieces I’ve seen, especially on the west side of the Los Angeles River are all about self-promotion and lack original and creative qualities.
Take this poster for instance. Einstein holding a sign that says “Love is the answer?” In this day and age of La Crisis and the numerous dire situations this city finds itself in, and the only thing this artist can come up with is this pseudo-hippie slogan? Oh how edgy! And Einstein…really? And when has ‘Love’ solely been the answer to anything? Some people’s ideas of love can be pretty screwed up, so no thank you. Social change comes not from wishful thinking and sappy slogans but from real engagement with the world we live in. Perhaps it’s this engagement that’s lacking from the current crop of west of the River public art.

“ People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, such people have a corpse in their mouth. “– Raoul Vaneigem, 1967

See LA Taco for an amazing gallery of public art from Argentina.