It seemed somehow appropriate that, on my last full day in Seattle, a biblical rainstorm erupted.
The Two Fingers To 50 Tour was drawing towards its conclusion. I still had all my marbles – or at least, I thought so – and unfortunately I hadn’t yet eloped with some flannel-shirted long-haired hunk from the Capital of Grunge.
As I sat on the plane to Los Angeles in my favourite faux leopard coat, I wondered if LA was ready for me.
It turned out that I wasn’t really ready for it. Almost as soon as I stepped out of LAX I was sweating like a heifer, since LA was over 20 degrees hotter than it had been a couple of hours’ flying up the West Coast. Not only was I overdressed for arriving in LalaLand, but with my deathly pallor I also stuck out a mile. That’ll teach me to still dress like a Goth at my age.
Still, the more I looked, the more the natives appeared like a bunch of extremely tall Oompa Loompas. My white complexion gradually didn’t seem so bad after all.
I had ensconced myself at the super-trendy Ace Hotel in Downtown LA. The Ace is housed in the former United Artists building, and is a hipster hangout par excellence. Plainly, I had booked myself in there by mistake. Like London, Downtown LA is currently like a huge building site, with construction work going on literally everywhere – even during the night (unless my hotel room was right above the air conditioning units for the entire city, which it probably was). And despite the city’s obvious wealth, the number of homeless encampments on every other street was absolutely shocking. Make no mistake, London will soon be like this too.
(From left: Downtown LA, including part of the interior of the Ace Hotel, second right.)
The Ace was also populated by the sort of bushy-bearded, pseudo-hippified, tight-trousered hipsters that I despise. Everyone looked as if they worked for a record label (are there any of those left these days, mind?) or film company, or wanted to, and the constant exhortations for me to “have a great day, y’hear” had my right fist aching from being permanently clenched. When I wanted to eat in the attached coffee shop/café at lunchtime, I found myself being seated at the bar, well out of the way of the main area or the window – probably in case I scared potential customers with my unnatural perimenopausal demi-Goth pallor.
Thankfully, I knew I was in for some sensible conversation, as whilst in LA I managed to hook up with my old friend Alex Newport. When I first got to know Alex in 1991, he was the frontman of one of my favourite ever bands, Fudge Tunnel (enjoy the Tunnel in all their glory here). They were never going to get on Top Of The Pops with that name, but their ferocious brand of noise rock was a perennial favourite on the K! Towers office stereo, and although they haven’t been around since the mid 90s their back catalogue becomes more influential by the year.
(Left: Newport (front) as he looked when I first knew him as a nipper. Right: us as supposedly mature adults.)
Alex and I became firm friends after meeting through work, and over the next 25 years have somehow managed to remain in regular contact despite living on different continents for most of that time. Now he is a sought-after record producer (see his web page here) with a home studio and a list of top names on his CV. I’m extremely proud of my old friend.
Fortunately, he offered to squire me around LA as he was between studio dates – which was a major bonus as I’d discovered within about 10 minutes of arriving LA that you definitely need access to a car. Last time Newport drove me anywhere, it was in his rickety old yellow Beetle which lumbered noisily around the streets of Nottingham. So the SUV was a welcome step up, mate!
After a tour of the Downtown sights and the sort of useful background info which you can only glean from a resident, the first night we went to (yes) a hipster hangout called Resident in the Arts District (check it out here), where we appeared to be the only people without full beards. Bands were playing, and we soon discovered that the new LA sound is, in fact, an amalgam of just about every C86 crew you could name (say, The Brilliant Corners or The Pastels) crossed with, well, Pete Shelley. We felt Officially Old.
Newport also knew some great, and cheap, restaurants, and so we dined like kings on Vietnamese one night, Mexican the next – and I finally got to meet his wife Yuki and cat Snowy when I visited the House In The Hills to check out the home studio and the garden with its resident raccoons, coyotes and baby skunks.
Looking back, I wish I’d booked a longer stay, but the time had come to head back to the East Coast. So, armed with a list of cool NY hangouts from Alex and Yuki (who lived there for years) and a 5.30am start to the airport, I was once again on the move. And this time, hopefully not overdressed for my destination.