NY Conversation May 2010

The idea of upping and moving to New York is such an irresponsibly romantic one that three weeks after leaving Melbourne, it still feels like Inpress is living in someone else’s world.

On the way, in a bid to stave off jetlag, we stop over in Los Angeles for a week. LA is a strange, empty city, all wide boulevards and neon alienation. Walking anywhere takes forever, which is why everybody drives. Big cars are compulsory. In fact, big everything is compulsory. The Church of Scientology takes up an entire block on Sunset Boulevard; the street it crosses is called L Ron Hubbard.

We hire a car and cruise the balmy night, feeling like characters in a Bret Easton Ellis novel, and end up in Silverlake, the Brunswick of LA. Queens Of The Stone Age spin-off Mini Mansions, who toured Australia recently, are playing at Spaceland. The venue is half empty for their (excellent) set, but it fills up for the headliners, The Willowz. They suck. They look like grunge-era caricatures and sound like The Eagles. LA: bringing you dull guitar music since 1965.

The next day we head up Mulholland Drive into the Hollywood Hills and, in the most unashamedly stalkerish thing I’ve ever done, find David Lynch’s house. It’s the one where he filmed Lost Highway, so to an obsessive fan, it’s instantly recognisable. The temptation to ring the doorbell and whisper, “Dick Laurent is dead,” is almost irresistible, but instead we just take a couple of surreptitious pictures and drive off feeling excited and slightly soiled.

Everyone’s cleared out of LA because it’s Coachella weekend. Some friends have rented a house in Palm Springs for the weekend so we drive down there, heading out onto LA’s intimidatingly complex freeway system. If the city feels deserted, it’s because everyone is on the freeway. The drive through the desert is like the queue for Meredith. As we edge between huge, barren mesas, three Chinooks fly over like squat, menacing insects. We’re not in Kansas any more.

The US economy is in a hell of a state – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard “in this economy” as a catch-all excuse for just about everything – but the bad times don’t seem to have reached the immaculate lawns and golf courses of Palm Springs. No-one here actually has tickets for Coachella, it seems – but that’s OK, because neither does Inpress. Apparently tens of thousands more people than the festival could possibly accommodate descend on the place every year, just to attend the parties.

The house we’re staying at is suitably palatial, and as the night goes on, a steady stream of VICE-alike LA hipsters comes through the place. A friend meets Paris Hilton at some other party. She doesn’t show up to the one we’re at. The thing is still going at 6am, when we decide to crash – we go to bed as the sun starts to rise into the cloudless desert sky. On the way back, morbidly hung over, we tune into Henry Rollins’ show on KCRW, an excellent listener-funded radio station that’s kinda like LA’s equivalent of Triple R. He pays tribute to an “an amazing Australian musician who passed away recently”, and plays Pop Crimes by Rowland S Howard. It’s an entirely unexpected and really rather moving moment.

The contrast between LA and New York has been discussed many times over the years, so I won’t dwell on it too much here, save to say that they’re pretty much polar opposites. Manhattan is shockingly familiar, because you’ve seen every inch of it in a film or a TV show. The experience of being somewhere you’ve never been before and yet being entirely familiar with it is a curious and slightly disconcerting one. I walk down Clinton St and think of Leonard Cohen, Lexington Ave and think of Lou Reed. Every street is in a song lyric somewhere. People are brusque but friendly. The streets and the subways are people-watching at its best. I’ve spend days wandering from block to block, seeing what goes on. The newsletters we’ve subscribed to – Todd P’s music directory, an epic arts listing called Nonsense NYC – go on for pages and pages, an unaccountable volume of culture.

Today, I’m walking down 8th Ave, when a girl walks past wearing a sign around her neck that says, ‘Whisper hello to me’. I do, and she giggles with delight, keeps walking, disappears into the crowd. I think I’m going to like it here.

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