Monday, September 15, 2014

The Venice Vintage Motorcycle Club Rally

The roar of what sounded like a thousand motorcycles woke me up bright and early on Saturday morning, as what turned out to be over 200 Venice Vintage Motorcycle Club bikers took off for their morning ride up the coast, kicking off the day's VVMC Rally.

The Farmer's Market location was turned into a mini-Sturgis for the day, as bikes lined the parking lot and motorcycle-related booths showed off their wares. A heat wave enveloped the Southland over the weekend, and Venice has never been hotter, both temperature and fun-wise.

There was live music and a festive atmosphere going on all day, I saw as I passed by on the way to the beach (there is simply no way to not get in the water when it's hot and awesome like this, so I had a beach day first). Noting the fun, I let the gang know that day's beach day would be the condensed version.

I got there just in time for the Pin-Up Contest, where a slew of hot retro-looking ladies vied for the title of the Venice Vintage Pin-Up Girl for 2014. Bikes and chicks ... lots of guys were happy in Venice this day.

Hosted by Nik Rae Falco, the girls took their struts across the stage, where ultimately, Miss Luci was crowned Miss Venice Vintage, and received her banner, applause and whistles.

There was a special guest judge, friend and actress, Drea De Matteo. It was great to see her again, sporting her Trim swag in support.

It was a blast to catch up with old friends, while the House and PBR beer and Sailor Jerry lines were steady all day long, keeping the proceedings pretty upbeat and rowdy.

There was an awesome band (who no one seemed to know what they were called) of tweenage kids, playing covers from Rage and The Chili Peppers ... making both my day, and the future secure.

I had Brook from Minnesota visiting, so it was the perfect day to show off all the fun and hijinks that go on around town. She was not disappointed.

The VVMC donated a fresh, brand new motorcycle to be raffled off, and it was won by actor, Jason Lewis (of Sex and The City fame), who had told his friend earlier in the day, "If I win that bike, I'll give it to you." Well, he did, and he did! How great is that? You can feel the fun and friendship coming right off of this photo, with the little girl sitting on the winner's bike...

It was fun for all ages, as I saw grandmas in wheelchairs, the most darling kids on the planet, and everyone in between.

Then it was time for the Hell City Rockers to rock the event to a close, and they blazed through a set that had everyone dancing, fists raised.

The day had turned golden, with that California light that you just don't see anywhere else, and we really all were out there having fun, in the warm, California sun. All day.

It was fun to see the husband and wife team of Hell City's Carter Falco being cheered on by our Mistress of Ceremonies, Trim's Nik. A very Venice family, for sure.

We could have listened to the Hell City jams all night, but there were after-parties and Saturday night things to get into (and probably permits that said to stop at 6 pm), so things actually wound up as the event wound down.

A great day, morning 'til night ... and yet another reason why we love to live, work and play here.

Thanks to all at the VVMC, and all the sponsors, volunteers, performers and riders who made the day so extra fun (But aren't biker people supposed to be partiers? Can the morning ride start a little later next year? Just wondering ....) Vrooom!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Thursday Venice Posse

As tonight is the last Pier Concert (Charles Bradley!), I wanted to give a shout-out to a fun-loving group of Venice folks who, for the last couple months, I've had the pleasure of watching ride by in their blocks long group of guys, gals, kids - with one guy in the middle always blasting old school hip hop from a giant boom box strapped to his bike ...

I wish I'd taken a video instead of a photo because it doesn't nearly capture how many they are, how awesomely loud it is for minutes as they all go by, and how they embody fun and the simple pleasures of friendship, bike rides, sunsets, music, and living where we do.

Hopefully I'll see them on their last concert ride of the summer this evening, and thank them for bringing a smile to my face (and heart) every Thursday.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Blogtown Turns 5!

I can't believe that five years have already gone by since I launched Blogtown on 9/9/09! There's been so many stories to tell, so many events to cover, so much fun to relate ... and it just keeps getting better. Thank you to any and everyone who has ever read a story, suggested a story, starred in a story, or been touched in any way by a story ... that's why I do it. My original intent was to build community/world peace through getting to know each others' stories and lives a little better. You're much less apt to be a jerk to someone when you know their whole story, and vice versa. We're all in this together, and it's our job to make sure we have the very best stories to tell.

Below is a re-post of my first Blogtown article/mission statement. Please feel free to chime in and let me know what stories you'd like to hear as we keep on rolling here in our beloved Venice. 5 ... I guess we go to Chuck E. Cheese or something tonight? Cheers!

*And Congratulations to Lacey Kay Cowden whose debut ep, Go Great Guns, is available today! Exciting!


A nickname for Venice, California is Dogtown. A nickname for me is CJ. I am a writer. It didn't take much thought to get the animated light bulb over my head saying, "BLOGTOWN (by CJ)". Of COURSE! Over the years I've written a lot of articles, and people keep asking where to find more of my work, ala "Do you have a Blog?" I did not. So when that kept coming up, I realized I'd better get with the times (um ... really. I've got a lot of work to do in that vein - you should see my phone. I keep pleading, "It's Punk Rock", but it's truthfully more that I'm just slow with things like technology. That's a topic for another day, however.), and here we are.

I grew up in Minnesota, listening to Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Companion radio show. My hope for BLOGTOWN is that it can be a bit like the work of a younger, wilder, female Mr. Keillor, who tells stories and rants about the happenings of not Lake Wobegon, but the ones the little city next to the Ocean Pacific ... Venice. I've lived out here for 14 years now. I've supported local businesses pretty much exclusively. I've volunteer taught many of the neighborhood's children through Venice Arts. I stand in line to vote about street permit parking (Against, fyi). I am an involved Citizen, for sure.  Most importantly, I've befriended everyone from my Can Collector folks to Famous Artists, and have found that all have equally fascinating tales to tell.

There are so many people/characters I've seen around over the years that I've always wondered what their back-story is. There are businesses and shops and houses and gardens that I've longed to know how they began for ages. There are urban legends and true stories and events and community celebrations to get to the bottom of. This will be a place for all of that, but also whatever I feel like. Sometimes I get all riled up about something and just have to get it out. Sometimes I'll go on the road and tell you about other places and scenarios, which always serve to illuminate how nice it is to return to Venice (even just from Hollywood), no matter how outlandish the adventure. Sometimes I'll eat somewhere great and pass that along to you. Sometimes I'll see someone (or a Government) being a jerk and call them out (but I hope I won't have to). Sometimes I'll ask for help for someone or their Cause. I will invite you to things, and give you the heads up for things you don't want to miss. Sometimes I'll see a film or read a book that moves me to my core, and I'll beg you to see or read it. Sometimes I'll tell you about music shows I've been to, and try to pass along the same chills I've felt seeing something wonderful, and perhaps turn you on to something new. And I hope you'll do the same for me, dear readers and friends. We are a COMMUNITY, after all. If you live nowhere near Venice, or haven't even heard of it (Really?), then WELCOME! Enjoy. You'll get here eventually ...

To be born on 09/09/09 means in numerology that you will be filled with truth, justice, compassion and success (so says Google). It is my hope that this is true, for both babies and blogs. I'll look forward to sharing with you, and seeing you out and about. If you see me, please tell me YOUR story, because everyone has one. Thank you so much for visiting my life here, as we're all part of the same poem. As an old Venice saying goes, "Poetry is what Venice is all about. It ain't the only thing, but it's the fundamental thing." And away we go!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Jail Guitar Doors Rock Out 2!

The second annual Jail Guitar Doors Rock Out was held September 5th at the Ford Amphitheater in Hollywood, and it certainly held true to its name. With another all star line-up coming together to benefit the organization founded by Billy Bragg (in the UK) and Brother Wayne Kramer and his wife Margaret Saadi Kramer (US) to bring guitars to inmates in prison as something positive in their lives.

It's touching to hear the stories that happen each Tuesday night in the guitar classes led by JGD volunteers in the Twin Towers men's central correctional facility in downtown L.A. MC of the evening, Dana Gould, brought out Wayne Kramer to much applause, and Kramer explained, "We see  inmates learn to process problems in new, non-confrontational ways. The walls go down, racism goes down, classism, sexism goes down ... and we end up with all that we really are - human beings."

Powerful stuff, and the applause was resounding for the volunteers (Jason Heath, Cody Marks, Michael de la Rocha, Adele Bertei, etal.) and JGD graduates that came out to play the first number, a jazzy one, led by graduate Franc Foster, who has gone on to run his own music program on Skid Row. The chorus went "I love you" ... and that's just about the most important thing to say ever, so we were off to a good start. They clanged out the namesake Clash tune, "Jail Guitar Doors", and then it was time for Kramer to really shine.

Earlier this year, Kramer released his jazz album, Lexington, and the Ford audience was in for a treat as Kramer and his Lexington Arts Ensemble (Phil Ranelin on trombone, Tigran Hamasyan on piano,  Buzzy Moore on tenor sax, Bob Hurst on upright bass, Doug Lunn on bass, Eric "The Claw" Gardner and Brock Avery on drums and percussion) spoke to us about life in prison through jazz in three instrumental numbers.

Kramer introduced the first number by saying that this album was "a way to talk about my jail experiences in my first language - music." As Kramer's signature star spangled guitar wailed in conversation with his fellow musicians in the Ensemble, and he tore off a particularly fresh solo, I thought to myself how he really is speaking, and we really are being taken on a tour of the thoughts and feelings involved with incarceration. It was heavy and cool at the same time, like jazz itself, I suppose. A true highlight.

Gould next introduced the ever-charming Jill Sobule, as a "Musical novelist", which is true, because every Sobule song tells a whole story, always with a little zinger of wit included. Like in her opening number, "Jetpack" where she sings, "If I had a jetpack, I'd take you so high, If I dropped you, you'd die." She's the best. She brought out a band to join her on the next one, saying, "I'm not used to having a guitar person!" and said that her favorite gigs are always the ones played with Wayne.

"When My Ship Comes In" was a rocker, with Sobule trading licks with Kramer metal-style. Raucous applause met them at song's end, and Sobule said, "I've always wanted to do that with Wayne!" Gould came out and said, "A guitar duel with Wayne Kramer? For a young lady, that takes balls." Yeah.

Next up was Tim Presley's White Fence, who, appropriately for the evening, have a new album called, For The Recently Found Innocent. While Presley looks a bit like a young Serge Gainsbourg, his band is straight out of hipster band central casting ... skinny jeans, pointy shoes, big beard, baseball hat ... check, check, check, check. They live in the "Psych Rock" bin at Amoeba, but had a lengthy jam band thing going too. They played two rockers for us before it was time for intermission.

After a few minutes of catching up with old friends, checking out the JGD merch table, and grabbing a beer, it was time for Mr. Gould to introduce the next performer as playing with his Mother, "So she's obviously more supportive of his career than mine was..." and out came Ben Harper with his band, The Relentless 7 (Jesse Ingalls, Jason Mozersky and Jimmy Paxson on drums and garbage can). "My Mom told me to man up and play one on my own first," Harper joked as he and the band played an acoustic "Don't Give Up On Me Now". With all of his vast catalog to choose from, this was an interesting choice when each performer only got a few songs in their set. Maybe to tie in with the prison message or something, but it's not really a fan favorite. But still real good.

"I'm Ben Harper, and this is my Mom, Ellen." Harper welcomed his Mother, Ellen Harper, to the stage with a hug and a kiss, and they harmonized beautifully together on the family-feeling "A House Is A Home" from their recent collaboration together, Childhood Home.

Ellen Harper took the lead on "Farmer's Daughter" on vocals and banjo, while Ben slid away on his Weissenborn ... taking us to the Appalachians and back, lamenting the loss of family farms to conglomerates like Monsanto. It was very easy to see where Ben gets his talents, and his social consciousness, as he played next to the woman who gave him those gifts. And that was it! Shouts of "MORE!" met the Harpers and the band, but as Gould said, "Ellen has to get Ben's lunch going for their gig tomorrow." Ha.

Rock Hall of Famer Jackson Browne took the stage next with a big band, including Ben Harper, who Browne brought back on to join him for a song "we both know, but we've never played it together before." So together they gave us, "Jamaica, Say You Will" (which Harper covered on the recent Browne tribute album, Looking Into You: A Tribute To Jackson Browne). It was as sublime as you can imagine, as Harper's Weissenborn, Browne's piano, and their classic voices blended together like a good dream.

"I'm fortunate to be here ... compared to jail, we're fortunate to be anywhere," said Browne truthfully. He brought back Jill Sobule (Jack and Jill!) to join him on Warren Zevon's heartbreakingly tender "Don't Let Us Get Sick". So pretty, I almost cried (but if you know me, that's not that hard). After that loveliness, it was back to the rock, with Browne unleashing his timeless "Running On Empty", stoking the entire place, as everyone sang and danced along under the starry skies on a warm, Hollywood night. It doesn't get a whole lot better ... but it does.

Browne brought out actor Tim Robbins (in a tank top) to join him, saying, "You're like the poster child for going to jail, Mr. Shawshank!" Fittingly, they lit into The Clash version of "I Fought The Law (And The Law Won)", trading licks and verses, and looking like they were having an absolute blast - as were all of us in the audience.

The octane got jacked up a whole lot higher for the last performers, Tom Morello and his Freedom Fighter Orchestra (Carl Restivo, Dave Gibbs, Eric Gardner). Bringing the incendiary rock for the final jams is now standard protocol for Morello at these events, and he did not disappoint.

Unveiling the brand new and super timely "Marching On Ferguson", they had fists raised and a whole bunch of grey heads practically moshing. A heavy tune musically, lyrically and subject-matter wise, Morello reinforced the argument for him being the modern-age Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger ... that can do a solo with his teeth on his Arm The Homeless guitar.

"Well, this is my last song because of curfew issues, so let's make it a good one!", said Morello to a disbelieving, riled up crowd. It WAS a good one, however, as Morello's version of Springsteen's "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" would have blown the roof off of the Ford, if it had one. It's so much his own now, with the famous guitar solo that still gives me chills. When you hear THIS Tom sing ...

Now Tom said, "Ma, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy,
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries,
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air,
Look for me, Ma,  I'll be there.
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand,
Or decent job or a helpin' hand,
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free,
Look in their eyes, Ma, you'll see me.

... you know that he absolutely means it. If there's a strike at the Port of L.A., or a Teacher's Union picket line, or a night of rock to help give incarcerated inmates something positive in their lives, Morello can be counted on to be there, if at all able. I am proud to be his friend, straight up.

People jumped to their feet, whistling and stomping, having just had their minds blown. "Does that mean you want one more song?!", Morello shouted. He then invited EVERYONE down front to jump and scream around for "The Road I Must Travel".

"OK, I need that 17 times louder, all together in solidarity!" ... and together the Ford crowd shouted the "Na, na, na, na..." chorus one more time. After more yelling for more, Morello ignored the curfew (and the fines), saying, "I don't think I'm done with you yet," and launching into the power riff from Rage's "Sleep Now In The Fire". All-time.

"TAKE IT EASY! TAKE IT EASY! TAKE IT EASY! ... BUT TAKE IT!!!" shouted Morello in his customary sign-off, but then swerved and said, "Fuck the curfew, let's play one more!" No one minded in the least (besides maybe Ford Theater neighbors, but they should be thrilled), and Morello brought back the whole line-up for the All Star finale. "Where's Ben Harper?! I've been waiting my whole life to play this song with Ben Harper! C'mon, we're being charged $15, 000 a minute!", Morello kept asking, but alas, the Harpers had already curiously peaced out ... Mom must not have wanted him out past curfew (Sorry. The comedian stuff rubbed off a little).
A shame, because who wouldn't want to play Kiss's "Rock And Roll All Nite" with Morello, Kramer, Browne, Sobule and a slew of other fantastic band members that BROUGHT. IT. Carl Restivo took on lead vocals, and we really could have kept it up all nite.

You can't have a Wayne Kramer gig without seriously kicking out the jams, and that's what the grand finale was, with everyone on stage as one unified Guitarmy. Kramer, Morello, Robbins and Browne all shared a mic at one point, and it was a delight to watch Franc Foster watching all these music heroes playing for, and on the behalf of, people just like him.

Jail Guitar Doors gives hope to the inmates it serves. It also gives hope to the world, that you can always make change for the better. When Kramer shouted at song's end, "We done kicked 'em OUT!", it was about the jams, of course, but it could just as well have been yelled about all the 'isms that he spoke about at the beginning of the show ... there's no room for racism, sexism, or any negativity at all when you share moments like this with good people like these's ALL kicked out.

Support Jail Guitar Doors, and the musicians that support them, because they're all doing something that truly matters, all while rocking you silly. Everybody wins!

*Photos by

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Tiki Tree Neighbor

What a nice surprise to be walking home one evening to discover that a neighbor on Rialto has transformed their front palm tree into a tiki-style totem pole!

That's one of the things I've always treasured about Venice ... the creativity and surprise that awaits you around every corner. Whoever carved out this awesomeness, you're just great. Mahalo!

UPDATE: After posting this, the homeowner contacted me to let me know that the tree had died and the city left behind a twenty foot stump. They never came to take it down, so he decided to make it cool, and hired Tiki Artist, "Crazy Al",  whose work can be found at if you'd like to do up your own stump!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Venice Celebrates The Life Of Jay Adams

Venice lost one of the true O. G.s on August 15th, when Jay Adams, founding member of Dogtown's Z-Boys and skateboard legend, passed away from a heart attack at the age of 53. He was on a three month surf trip in Porto Escondido, Mexico with his wife, Tracy. Adams had just told Tracy that it was the trip of his life, catching all the best waves, being in love and at peace. He was very much looking forward to coming back and living his life as a man of God, and helping others to deal with drug and violence issues like he'd struggled with in his past. He wanted to be a positive force in the world. "He survived so many things to get to a place where he could help people," Tracy Adams told me. He had recently read her the Bible verse from 2 Timothy, 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith," as being very meaningful to him. Adams died in his sleep, a happy man, ripping apart waves right up until the end. What a way to go.

When Venice got word of Adams' passing, everyone came together. Lauren Wiley of the Venice Skate Alliance helped raise $14,000 in a matter of days to bring Adams back, cover funeral expenses, and help get Adams' ashes and family to Hawai'i, where half of them will be spread. The other half will stay in Venice, where Adams was born in the canals, and always returned to visit.

Venice really came together on August 30th, a perfectly beautiful day, and one that will long be remembered in our community. Generations united to celebrate the life of Jay Adams with a paddle out ceremony next to the Venice Pier. It looked like a surf contest, with tents set up, a band playing, tropical flowers everywhere, friends and family members tailgating, and even a pot-luck bbq set up on tables in the sand.

Flower arrangements, banners and memorial surfboards made the occasion clear, and hundreds of people filled the sand and lined the pier to pay their respects to one of the men who not only helped keep skateboarding alive, but changed it forever with his smooth, surf style.

Old friends reconnected, new friends were made. It was a giant Venice family reunion, with both those who left a long time ago, but always kept it in their heart, to those who will never leave and are doing everything they can to hold on to the feeling of community like was felt on the sand that day. As Wiley said, "Look around. The spirit of Venice is not dead." Not even close.

Adams will always live on as well, as pro skater and keeper of the Venice Skate Park, Jesse Martinez, told me, "If someone is skateboarding, Jay lives. Kids skating today don't realize, Jay Adams had a big part in everything they're doing today. He set me on the path to literally change my life through skateboarding ... and it changed skateboarding forever." All day long I heard stories being told about Adams and the wild and crazy times that were had with him. Martinez continued, "If Jay was your friend, you were in for a ride. You were privileged to have time with him. It sounds like a broken record, because everyone you talk to will say the same thing ... there was just something about Jay. He stood out. He had a unique aura that he carried with him ... life put him through ten rounds and chicks still loved him!" A kid approached Martinez at the skatepark and told him he was sorry he lost his friend. Martinez replied, "No, WE lost Jay. We all lost a friend."

That was the common refrain of the day... "I haven't seen you in forever, Bro!" "Yeah, I had to come. Jay was like a brother to me." "He was a brother to all of us." Which is what Seven Adams, Jay's son, told me. "By having his fatherhood, I got a brotherhood." That was clear all day, as hugs and respect were exchanged, and you know these guys will be looking out for Jay's son (and daughter, Venice) always.

"My Dad taught me how to treat people, he'd give you the shirt off his back. When someone told me that, I ripped my shirt off coming off the plane, and gave it to someone." A charming and happy kid, Seven told me that, "I just want people to remember how rad my Dad was, that he was just raw stoke. He went hard at everything ... I know that he was one of the luckiest people alive, because he was stoked every day. Everyone has so much love for him, it's been amazing."

It really was amazing, as after a bit of eulogizing by pro skater, Christian Hosoi ("A perfect day, Jay would be so stoked .... Let's all get together, not just at memorials, but to celebrate us being alive and being together ... Amen?!" Amen.), everyone paddled out into the ocean north of the Venice Pier, where even the lifeguard boat paid their respects with a giant spout of water and horns blaring.

Flower petals were scattered down into the water as all the surfers shouted and slapped the water, bringing both chills and tears to the eyes. Adams was again eulogized by friends in the water and by his Pastor from Calvary Chapel in Santa Ana ("Welcome to Venice, Pastor!"), where his memorial service had been held the day before. It wasn't easy to hear from up above on the pier, but I could make out a guy in the middle yelling, "Jay was 100%! 100% Skater, 100% Surfer, 100% Man of God, 100% Inspiration!" and everyone yelled and splashed the water some more.

A giant circle formed, and symbolically brought everyone together again.

As we were watching (and a drone was filming it all from above!), rock star and Adams' friend, Perry Farrell, told me, "He had a ton of energy, total fearlessness and courage. Men aspire to be courageous, and Jay was. There was no one like him."

There was such a large turnout that there was a police presence, of course. I heard one guy say, "Jay ain't even here and the cops came!" People laughed about stories with Jay all day, with Martinez adding, "You always had the best and craziest times with Jay ... like all people growing up in Venice, we all had shady pasts, but then you evolve." Seven Adams added to that, "He grew up a punk - but the most loved punk ever - and died a man of God." Tracy Adams reiterated that, "He overcame so much, and became a man of integrity, 100% living and loving life."

Carter Slade, a longtime friend of Adams, said, "The only thing you need to remember about Jay Boy is how big his heart was," and went on to share wild stories about Jay, like the time he surprised a friend that needed one with a car, keys just left under the mat. According to everyone there, he did stuff like that all the time. Tracy Adams told me that he'd just spent the recent Go Skateboarding Day in Mexico, giving little kids all his clothes and teaching them tricks.

When the paddle out was completed with a chant of "Live Like Jay!", everyone caught a big party wave back in, and spent the rest of the day catching up, partying around town, and then re-convening for a skate session over at the Venice Skatepark in the evening.

There, pro skate luminaries like Hosoi, Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, and Lance Mountain eulogized Adams again through their tricks inspired by him, and an Adams mural was unveiled in the bowl.

I saw a tiny little boy standing in front of the board decorated in tribute to Adams for the paddle out, and in that moment, the depth and importance of Jay Adams - both in Venice and in the skate and surf worlds - was captured for me. That kid will remember this day, and he'll learn tricks originated by the ever-smooth Adams. Adams himself said it best ... "You didn't quit skateboarding because you got old, you got old because you quit skateboarding." Generations of skateboarders ... forever young, with Adams to thank for that sage advice.

Adams, like the Venice he came from, was creative, unique, fun-loving, tough as nails, and very much beloved. It was a special day in Venice, for sure. Another Venice original, another piece of Venice history, is gone, but never forgotten. It's events like this that let you know how very special and precious it all is, and reminds you to hold it all dear. To Jay Adams for the reminder and the inspiration, to the spirit of Venice, and to the people who keep it alive every day ... To you all, thank you.

Jay Adams 1961-2014 ... Rest in peace.