The Big Lebowski is on our minds as we drive west on the 101 through 104 degree Woodland Hills exurbia. Sinister smoke from the Zaca fire, now six weeks old, billows orange and gray to the north. It’s Saturday afternoon in the Southland.
The two Pauls and Rob have seen The Big Lebowski at least ten times each. Shawn has never managed to sit through it, despite having Paul L’s DVD copy for the last several months. “Stay out of Malibu, Lebowski! Keep your ugly goldbricking ass out of my beach community!” says the stern Malibu sheriff to battered and beaten Jeff Bridges. A scene that cuts to the heart of the general public’s unconscious fear of subtly expressed wealth and its subtle death grip on what was once lonely Pacific Coast Highway Paradise, and before that a land so abundant with game, fish, and edible vegetation that Chumash and Gabrielino Indians enjoyed a truly laid back California lifestyle (“Malibu” is Chumash for “place of cliffs,” and Topanga Canyon marked the boundary between Chumash and Gabrielino territory, and the boundary of vast land grants from the King of Spain).
Yes, we are driving to Malibu. And yes, fear and gallows humor are in the frigidized air of the trusty Yukon as we head south and up into the chaparral on Las Virgenes Road. For we have been bounced off the opener slot for Chris Hillman and Richie Furay at the Malibu Performing Arts Center. And yea, we have fought back, with our ally Tommy Funderburk, big league session vocalist who guested on California Country and a good pal today, for he did indeed make phone calls and straighten out the situation. Powerful and heretofore unknown forces had been informed that we were a Gram Parsons cover band, hence the bounce.
But we’re back, and rolling to a 5:30 sound check. As we crest the ridge and gaze down upon gilded shores and the smooth green overwatered slopes of Pepperdine University, the temperature plummets 20 degrees. This is why $20 million estates cluster on ridges and beachfront canyons. Never hot, never cold. Geffen, Streisand, Groening, Cher, Dylan, Gibson and Goldberg, Hanks, Hawn, Hopkins and Hudson, Pagey and Axl and Britney and Charlize, legions of those before whom we plebians quake. All are sequestered here, or at least their housekeepers, as their masters escape to Ibiza and Lake Como.
And now we Hawks must do spiritual battle with the country rock fringes of this Pacific palaced province. We must prevail through the paralyzing atmosphere of American Class.Tom Petty is a rumored guest tonight at the Malibu Performing Arts Center. Which is another reason, we gather, that we had been bumped. “There’s too much music tonight,” was the unattributed quote. We have been granted 25 minutes before the king, from 7:20 to 7:45. Song selection is painful. Most of our children will be abandoned. A rolling tug on the Gray Label bottle (a serviceable 100% agave tequila) helps.
A few wrong turns, past the last functional agricultural field on the west side, and we find the sprawling anonymous MPAC, behind City Hall. A Malibu sheriff’s car discreetly dogs us, then rolls onward when we squeeze past the orange safety cone. Apparently we belong here. “Mr. Treehorn draws a lot of water in this town. You don’t draw shit, Lebowski.” We are greeted by Gene, Genial owner of MPAC, which on the inside is a dazzling pearl of a recording studio/performance space. A big league API board, 500 seat theater, mastering studio, discrete full service bar upstairs, and green rooms to the horizon fill the building. We’re told that it’s wired for satellite 24/7. Cool.
Richie Furay’s band has just begun sound check. A cluster of very young male interns surround the kick drum, which sounds like a dead body being thumped with a stick. What gives, in this Sonic Valhalla? We retire to the Hawks Green Room, and partake of pretzels and beers. And more beers. We wander the facility. Kind souls offer to sell our CDs. Seven p.m. approaches. We are summoned to the stage. A fifteen minute sound check, and we’re ready to rock in acoustic style. The vocal monitors sound legendary.
Our appointed start time comes and goes, and we finally hit the stage at 8. Five songs, great sound, great audience response. We are signaled to get off. We do. Richie Furay greets us warmly as we pass the shrimp trays (surely there were shrimp trays? dazzled we were), a big moment for Paul L who grew up with Poco’s well crafted tunes helping to form the songwriting templates in his skull. Journey through corridors, all is good. How many beers remain in our cooler?
Chris Hillman, Herb Pedersen, bassist Bill Bryson, and ace acoustic guitarist Larry Parks take the stage and the sound and performance are dazzling indeed. They do bluegrass like no one else, sweeter and somehow more real than the east coast superstar bluegrass bands. The Hillman/Pedersen vocal blend is a classic.Suddenly: piercing feedback, et in Arcadia ego? The Hillman band makes a hasty retreat from the stage. Richie Furay gathers all in the Shrimp Room for a prayer circle, and the feedback does miraculously vanish. The Hillmen return, music magic resumes, then a second, more mysterious miracle: the feedback returns, never to be quite banished tonight. Crush him with your heel you may, Feedback lurks yet in our deepest recesses.
Richie Furay and his very young band take the stage, anonymous electric song renditions come alive when the guitarist abandons his stratocaster and picks up a banjo, then Chris Hillman comes out and 60’s and 70’s magic is in the air. The evening is a throwback to the days when concerts started 3 hours late, security was a well packed bong, crowds milled and heaved like schools of fish in a dusty sea, and anything could happen. Those days are gone, the seats are plush and reserved, but the madness glows between the cracks. These gray headed Christians are larger than life.It’s time to go. The Hawks are weary. Paul M hangs for a rumored jam, then splits at 1 a.m., still awaiting jam. Paul L’s old friend Rob Rio has brought a young firecracker of a date, and as wee hours commence and cell communication fails, she’s stalking Tom Petty, who has indeed lent his royal presence to the country rock fringe. Good luck Tom. Farewell, Malibu.
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Uh? Eh? Er? Ah. Morning. Technically. Time to shake off the beers and spirits and rise, for it is the day of Ali’s wedding. Ali of Cole’s Bar fame and fortune, who did host us for three years, in downtown basement bar, who did hoist Chimays and Green Label, who did take care of spouses and friends, who did run off the more deranged of visitors from the 6th Street nightair, who did rather well from the Wednesday nights, as did we all.It’s a full blown Persian wedding at a banquet hall in Glendale. We’re dressed and driven and arrived just in time, 4:05 on the dot, Rob and the Pauls and wives and child. The Pauls are wearing nearly identical bolo ties. The wives are in print Americana dresses. The Persian men are in suits, the women in heavily sequined and revealing satin or satinesque. Intoxicating. Ali’s in a tux, and he and his lovely bride in shimmering green are mingling with arriving guests. None of the theatrical sequestering of the couple so prized by the Western World.
The ceremony is mysterious and moving. The bride and groom sit facing a mirror with symbolic foods and herbs on a low table in front of them. The wedding officiator of unknown designation should be a movie star, so gravitasladen is his chiseled face, so honeylike his vocal tone. And honey is dipped by Ali and bride, on little fingers into new spouse mouth, a kiss, and they are married. The women, and women only, break out into piercing and hair raising ullulations throughout the ceremony. Not only the older women, but the beautiful young teens. Tradition is a rock that will not roll. On to the celebration.We sit at table 22 with Allan Mason, ranconteur nonpareil of aforementioned Coles and music scholar, and some other cool folks, and a bottle of Red Label sits on the festooned table. Ali promptly brings over a Green Label with a wink.
Kick ass Persian hummus, five preparations of eggplant, peppers, potatoes, fish, caviar, and we’re stuffed. It’s time to dance.And dance. This is a dance party, disguised as a wedding. Bee Gees, funk, rap, and the Persian pop that knocks everything off the floor, and everyone dances. Food arrives, it won’t stop, we’re groaning, but the dancing stops only for a brief toast or two, and then a live band rocks the house, dumbek, trap drums, infinitely melodious synthesizer, and vocalist who sings like an angel all night. Friends and family get down: solo dancers with traditional moves, an art performance by a young beauty who dons an oversized tux jacket and does a seven minute mockery of male posturing. Circle dances, four couple dances, dances, dances. We’re beat, doing our best to be not unfunky in this super funky sophisticated movement. Ali, how do you do this? I’m tired, says Ali. We’re relieved at this one hint of mortality.
We stagger to the sidewalk seven hours on, and the scene inside shows no signs of slowing. A powerful groove, a powerful people. All the best, Ali and beautiful wife.