Los Angeles isn’t a city that inspires misty-eyed recollections. There’s nothing soft about the place (unlike, say, San Francisco). While New York City is mythic, larger-than-life, Los Angeles remains earthbound and squat. (Tthe glamorous yet codependently clingy aura of Hollywood remains so much Tinkerbell dust —merely cosmetic.) We don’t remember it for its vistas (the ocean, the sunsets) but for the sprawl, the congestion, the gritty, sleazoid drama of the place. It’s no wonder it’s the town of Noir. It’s perpetually 1956 in La-La Land. It’s always dusk. It’s always smoky.
Exene Cervenka’s a bit of a nomad, having toured the world many times over as a member of X, the Knitters, and Original Sinners (to name but a few). But her collages feel like LA to me. They capture it in all its messy, colorful, kitschy and slightly overheated intensity. Tacky throwaway rick-rack (ticket stubs, hyperbolic ad slogans, bingo cards, religious tracts, cigarette cartons, old postcards), arranged artfully, gives way to moments of the most delicate profundity. Or, as Christine McKenna puts it in her introduction to Exene’s latest monograph, MAGICAL METEORITE SONGWRITING DEVICE, “each piece she’s made is a valentine to a fragile America that’s disappearing before our very eyes.”
There is a real tenderness to these pieces. What would be trash under less careful guidance blossoms under Exene’s benign curation. Disparate, often ugly pieces of unwanted detritus undergo an alchemical transformation, turning lustrous and even profound. Exene’s love of wordplay shines through, and impromptu, wry poems leap unbidden from almost every page.”The girl who forgot the blind’s (sic) weren’t drawn/Pull up then down provided by the management.” “Heartbreak express/Good for one beer.” Or simply: “Why not?”
MAGICAL METEORITE SONGWRITING DEVICE | Hardcover, 50 pages, ISBN 978-0-9763009-2-2, $35. It is available directly from Perceval Press.
My friend Leslie passed away in her sleep this past weekend. Since I’d moved away from SF we’d mostly fallen out of touch. In fact, the last time I saw her was at a Knitters show at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. Leslie loved music to her core, and she wrote about it with fervor, intellectual rigor, and her omnipresent sense of humor. Here’s a snippet which, although brief, gives you a sense of Leslie’s vibrant voice:
Q. Say the Rock Show Attendee’s Creed.A. I believe in Iggy, Jimi, Chrissie, and Joe Strummer, the Parents Almighty, Creator of heaven on earth; I believe in Malcolm McClaren and Sid Vicious, His only Son. I believe in punk, lo-fi and gangsta, indie, post-punk, indie-pop, rock, singer-songwriter, and insurgent country, conceived by Uncle Tupelo, born of Jeff Tweedy who suffers, as does Lou Barlow. I believe in Squirrelbait and Johnny Cash. I believe in the Motor City. I will respectfully love and fear Tad. I believe in Superchunk and PJ Harvey. I believe in new bands and will never pretend to know music I have never heard, so my mind may stay open and I will sitteth at the right hand of Mission of Burma so I may one day ascend to heaven, where I will be greeted by Sonic Youth, Eazy-E, and Mike Watt. I will not listen to rock critics, but trust my own ears. I believe in DIY, zines, Yo La Tengo, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of Cobain, and rock everlasting. Amen.
Amen. We’ll miss you, Leslie.
ARTWORK BY EXENE CERVENKA FROM “MAGICAL METEORITE SONGWRITING DEVICE.”