Having finally got this column/blog up and running, it turns out the first installment is gonna be about Los Angeles, mainly because I haven’t got to New York yet – not arriving there until late April. En route, we found ourselves in LA for a week.
I’ve certainly never had any great desire to visit before – it sounded kinda like Sydney, which can never be a good thing – but the idea of breaking up the flight and staving off morbid jetlag provided compelling motivation. And in retrospect, I’m glad I came.
I don’t to come across all ingenue-abroad-marvelling-at-the-differences-between-here-and-home, but LA truly is a strange, strange place. If New York is a hyper-condensed distillation of urban living, with everything and anything concentrated on a relatively small island, then LA is just the opposite. It’s like a city designed for giants. The scale is intimidating and somehow alienating. For miles and miles, it’s a succession of vast boulevards that stretch off as far as you can see, the emptiness only broken up by the Hollywood hills and the occasional massive high-rise, monoliths arising from an otherwise flat landscape. At night, the neon lights illuminate empty streets – it reminds me of the Manic Street Preachers’ line: “Under neon loneliness/Motorcycle emptiness”.
But even during the day, the streets are deserted. No-one walks anywhere, it seems, which makes sense when you take into account that it takes hours to get from place to place on foot. The shops all have tinted windows, so even when they’re open they look closed. If you ignore the cars, you could be walking through the streets of a city where everyone had mysteriously disappeared, like a giant suburban Marie Celeste.
If all this sounds overly negative, it’s not meant to. I didn’t *dislike* LA – it’s just really strange. Before we left, someone – sorry, can’t remember who – mentioned that LA left them with some indefinable sense of nostalgia, and being there, I can understand why. The place remains full of iconic imagery out of the ’50s:
The prevalence of this sort of stuff, along with the entire nature of the city, means it comes across – to a visitor, at least – as some giant monument to the American dream: everyone can live in the suburbs, everyone can have a (gigantic) car, everyone can have whatever they want. It’s a dream that’s faded, not least because the entire place’s economy remains in the shitter, and LA seems to be suffering intensely – but still, there’s a certain grandeur in the place’s faded glory.
And then, there’s this:
Once we hired a car, of course, it suddenly started to make sense – the distances are negotiable, and the fact that all the traffic is largely on the motorways means you can cruise unmolested everywhere else. Indeed, the boulevards are made for cruising in the car – the whole place is a testament to America’s love affair with the automobile. And again, this ties into the whole idea of the place being an embodiment of the American dream.
The other thing that suddenly made just a little more sense after a week in LA was David Lynch. I don’t mean his narratives suddenly became clear – that’ll never happen, and besides, that’s the whole point – but he captures the whole dreamlike atmosphere of the city perfectly in his films. The empty streets, the parties, the opulence, the decay beneath the facade… It’s all there, and evoked flawlessly. Mulholland Drive is the prime example, but also Lost Highway, even Blue Velvet… I love him even more, now.
And thus, in surely the most unashamedly fanboyish thing I’ve ever done – we found his house. You’ll recognise it from Lost Highway:
We hung around out the front, took a surreptitious photo, and drove off. I felt slightly soiled by our stalkerishness, but also exhilarated. It’s not every day you get to be in the presence of greatness.
Next: Coachella. Or, at least, hanging at the fringes of Coachella. With Tony Curtis. Sort of.
All photos by Leila Morrissey.