Friday, April 18, 2014

Wayne Kramer's Lexington

Wayne Kramer is someone who's life story I'd very much like to read. From lead guitar in the Mighty MC5 to prison inmate to social activist to new father, Kramer's life has an interesting story in every chapter. His latest record release (and first jazz album), Lexington, (from Kramer's own label, Industrial Amusement) feels like it tells his story instrumentally.

From the opening track, "Chasing A Fire Engine" to the very last echo of the last chord on the last track, "Spectrum Suite" ... Kramer and his musical co-horts engage in a musical conversation that ranges from whispers of compassion to shouts of joy.

Lexington also serves as the soundtrack to the PBS documentary The Narcotic Farm, about the failed war on drugs. As Kramer served prison time for selling cocaine to an undercover officer back in 1975 at Lexington Federal Penitentiary in Kentucky, it's a subject he knows quite a lot about. I believe Kramer would give large credit to his guitar for saving him, and he certainly pays that forward.

Kramer's time in prison also enlightened him to the fact that music is therapeutic and restorative for inmates (and everyone, really), and together with Billy Bragg and Kramer's wife, Margaret Saadi Kramer, started the organization Jail Guitar Doors, which gets guitars into the hands of inmates so that they might have something to love and do both within prison, and after they get out.

Through it all, Kramer always had the music. Included in Rolling Stone's list of 100 Greatest Guitarist Of All Time, that guitar shines through on every track of Lexington, lending a little punk and metal flair to the extra-jazzy compositions being served up by Kramer and his Lexington Arts Ensemble (consisting of Kramer on guitar, Tigran Hamasyan on piano, Phil Ranelin on trombone,  Buzzy Moore on tenor sax, Bob Hurst on upright bass, Doug Lunn on bass, Eric "The Claw" Gardner and Brock Avery on drums, and Dr. Charlie Moore as co-producer and partner).

"Chasing A Fire Engine" is a rap session between Kramer's guitar and the sax with jazzy piano holding it all together. "Arc" is heavier, you can really feel the rock in there. "The Wayne In Spain" takes you on a trip to a jazz club in Spain, with Dick Dale (sounding riffs) tagging along. The gorgeous track, "13th Hour" is my favorite I think, all slow and dreamy sounding. The piano dances in the forefront of the hot track "Taking The Cure", that is until Kramer's guitar cuts in and leads. The final cut "Spectrum Suite" is big and majestic and perfectly titled, as the instruments hit every color of the musical spectrum, from electric guitar shred to horns that make it impossible not just to tap your feet, but to get up and dance! I'm lucky to call Kramer a friend since we traveled together on Tom Morello's Justice Tour back in 2008 ... and we all danced a lot on that voyage.

I recall Kramer playing his poetic jazz compositions, almost spoken word at times, to big rooms full of kids waiting to hear a Morello monster shred. Not the target jazz audience, but Kramer had them nodding and listening silently after one number. Kramer's range, in music and in life, has to be experienced, and live is where its at, though this new record puts you right there in the club with these players. Especially on vinyl. 

Lexington will be released in limited edition vinyl on Record Store Day (tomorrow, April 19th ), appropriately, and will be available for full digital download on April 29th.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Venice Skates For Ian Imes

The Venice Skatepark was going off last Saturday for the Z-Flex Jay Boy Classic contest, on a perfect blue sky sunny day. Skaters and spectators alike were all super into what was an ideal Venice day.

Jay Adams was there for his namesake contest, as were a whole slew of Venice locals shredding up the park in hopes of getting a Z-Flex sponsorship. There was some extra-impressive skating going on, for sure.

There was one cloud hovering over the proceedings though, and that was that skatepark regular, Ian Imes, had been involved in a hit and run car accident in Santa Monica the Saturday before. He is currently in UCLA Hospital - paralyzed from a spinal injury. I spoke to his Mother, Cintia Holz, who exuded gratitude, and was remarkably positive for someone who has been told that her 20 year old son may never walk again.

Imes had just returned from a visit to Massachusetts, and told his Mom he wanted to be a surfer. He had just ridden his brand new board, and was thrilled about it, when he and his friends were skating home April 5th. Imes was hit at the intersection of 17th and Marine. The car sped off, leaving him for dead. Who does that?! I don't know, but they will be caught, and things will be a lot worse than if they'd just had a heart and stopped. There aren't many great leads yet, and they're looking for anyone with any information to do the right thing and come forward to police.

"It's life changing", said Holz, "but we all have hopes, because he's a strong, young kid." He certainly seems to be, as doctors had thought he'd be on a ventilator for weeks, and he's already about to come off of it. Skaters are a tough breed, and Imes has them all pulling for him, from coast to coast. Holz also mentioned that she doesn't like how authorities treat skaters (even when interviewing them about a tragedy), "like they're all punks. I'm sick of it." We all are. Skateboarding, in fact, keeps a lot of kids from becoming punks, because they're occupied by doing what they love - a sport - instead of out causing real trouble. A little respect is not too much to ask for ... or demand.

Donation buckets were handed around at the Skatepark during the contest, and can be found all over town at places like The Sidewalk Cafe, Maui and Sons, Arbor (whose CEO, Bob Carlson, has taken the lead on the fundraising support, and Mrs. Holz could not say enough how grateful she was to him), and online at Imes' donation page:

There is also a Facebook support page:

As hard as all of this must be for the whole family, I was amazed at how calm and upbeat Mrs. Holz was able to be. She said, "I'll cry when he walks again. Tears of joy." So will we.

 $3,000 was raised in one day (a little kid even broke his piggy bank to donate $35!), but this is going to be a long road for Imes and his family, and they can use all the help they can get. Watching all the good skating, and seeing everyone look so young and free, it was hard to remember that all that can be gone in one instant.

Watching the Venice and skate communities come together for one of their own, it was easy to remember that love is what it's all about, and that is exactly what Ian's Mom was focusing on ... "It's super amazing. I didn't know that people care so much." They do.

Please help in any way that you can. It all helps. Together we are all stronger.

Thank you.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Yo Bret! Farewell To A Great Friend Of Venice

Yesterday was truly a sad day for Venice, California. We lost our friend Bret Haller, founder of Yo Venice, the website that kept you in the know all the latest about what was going on around town. Bret and I became friends when he wrote to me complimenting me on a story I wrote here on Blogtown. That began a friendship, and mutual respect, with both of us caring deeply about our Venice Community, and doing our best to bring our fellow citizens together to keep that Venice bond strong.

Bret and I would stick up for each other when someone (usually nameless, using some lame troll handle in a forum) would go after us for something we'd written, we'd re-post each others' stuff, give each other more (or correct) information, and make electronic introductions for each other with people that shared our orbit that we thought the other should know. We had different things going on with our sites, so we were never in competition, and both thought our work complimented the other's.

This was the last email I got from Bret last month, and one that is a great example of exactly who he was ... always trying to connect the Venice dots, this time between myself and Paul Chesne:

Paul, you put out a new record and you didn’t email me a copy to review for Yo?

You on a bender of epicness?

Anyway, CJ, since Paul is such a Paul, can I use your writeup of “Downright Up & Left”? I wanna help him out even tho he didn’t send me anything! No morphine for you next time we hang Paul!


I am sure the new one is great, as yer the best boogie band in these parts!

Cool that you two are friends, I should have assumed so!


Of course it was cool. It always was. I texted Bret a few weeks ago to tell him I thought it was finally time for me to write a story about HIM and his Yo Venice that kept so many of us informed with what was going on up to the minute. He didn't get back to me, unusually, but I knew he was dealing with late stage cancer, so anything could be going on. He was so positive and upbeat every time we spoke or emailed - funny, even - that I thought he was probably just on a particularly rough bout of chemo, but he was for sure gonna beat that stuff.  For sure. Soon, we'd go meet up for that beer we kept talking about getting, and I'd grill him for a story. I'm sad that I'll never get to tell it now. Sad for me, and losing that supportive friend, and sad for Venice, that we have lost such an important member of our community. Someone that truly loved his home, and made it his life's work.

Rest peacefully now, Bret. You can be sure we're pouring some of that beer out all over Venice turf for you. Cheers, Brother.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Turning Point Pilates - The Classical Studio In Venice

I just took my first Pilates class ever. And I loved it. It always seemed like a lot of rigamarole for a lady who prefers to do my exercising outside, preferably free and alone on the beach so I can think, with no one yelling at me what to do, in my own world. Classes, equipment, a bunch of other sweaty people ... none of that is really my style.

Then one day Robin Solo, owner of Turning Point Pilates in Venice, reached out to me and invited me to come and try a class. I'll pretty much always try something, so I went. And I can still feel it - in a good way.

Turning Point offers instruction (since 2006) from their sunny Venice loft space in the traditional, classical Pilates methods founded by a German fellow, Mr. Joseph Pilates in the 1940's (a photo of whom hangs over the front desk). It was developed to strengthen all the muscles at once, around a strong core, and became very popular in the dance world, for the lengthening and strengthening it offers. It soon took off so that all sorts of people got into, and greatly benefited from it. It's popular because it does give you a hot body, but also makes everything better and easier for you, even just getting up out of bed every morning. It engages all of the muscles, all of the time. And you can sure feel it - as you're doing it, and for a couple days after, in my case.

"Each movement is a whole body effort, but it's mental exercise too. It's cerebral," Solo told me right before getting me on the reformer. That's another bonus ... you're concentrating so hard on your muscles and the movements, that there really isn't room in your brain to think about your work, or your dude problems or if you want to go to that art opening or not that night ... it's all about what's going on in your body at that moment. For someone like me who has a hard time shutting off my thoughts all the time, it was a welcome hour of total concentration, of my mind working only on my body. It was rad. And both easier and harder than I thought. Easier because the movements are completely manageable and the machines ("reformers") are only there to help you. Harder because those little movements in short sets soon had me sweating for real, and standing on quivery legs. Later that night, it hurt when I laughed, a sure sign that something had worked. And worked hard.

Solo (no relation to Han) is a native Californian, who after burning out on years of "soulless" film production work, really wanted to do something that she felt mattered and made people - including herself - feel good. She took Pilates classes and realized that was what she loved and wanted to share with others, in the traditional way. "I wanted to help people feel better, and this changes peoples' lives. There's a real gratitude factor." I get that. I'm in, I thought...

No sooner had she said that, then a delivery guy opened the door and asked Solo if she would accept a package for a neighboring business (they're located in that office park between Zinque and Tlapazola, smack in the middle of Venice, so you can just walk or bike over, but if you have to drive, there's easy, free parking). He glanced around and said, "Is this a Pilates studio?! I totally owe my walking straight to Pilates! I broke my ankle and they said it was so bad I might not walk again, but I started doing Pilates and it's awesome.! Can I take a card?" He did, and he'll be back, this big guy shouting, "Yay Pilates!" as he left out the door. It was a perfectly timed testimonial, sure, but I too could already feel relief in my hunched up writer's shoulders immediately after my session with Solo. No joke. I feel taller after one class. So I too will be back.

"Lots of classes out there are fusions, like Pilates on meth, " explained Solo when teaching me about the original way. "It's hard for boutique businesses to compete with all the chains (Venice doesn't believe in chains, remember?), and I don't want to dilute the purity of Pilates" - so she stays indie. We like that here. And this is the real deal. Taught the way Mr. Pilates taught it. Legit.

Working and living in Venice, Solo enjoys exactly that ... being able to walk or bike to work. Walking the canals. Observing the ever-changing graffiti, and like me, loving the Art Crawl when it's on. She loves her Hal's and Primitivo, but like most people I speak to, the most important thing to her about Venice is the community. If you're part of it, you know what that means ... the friendly waves, the knowing your order, the having your back if you need it from people who also came here to live because it's special ... and needs to remain so. The Community helps to ensure that it will.

About Venice, Solo says, "It feels good down here." It does. Even more so when your body feels good and you walk a little taller around town.

Try it. You will like it.

Turning Point Pilates
612 Suite A Venice Blvd.
(Sign in driveway, between Zinque and Tlapazola)
Class schedule at

*Solo is pictured here doing way harder stuff than I did. Don't be intimidated by her moves, you can totally handle it. Her clients range in age from early 20's to almost 80's, in all shapes and sizes. You got this.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Ziggy Marley Is A Fly Rasta

I woke up smiling this morning because the music of Ziggy Marley was still echoing in my ears from last night. Then I realized it's April 4th, and Martin Luther King was assassinated 46 years ago today ... and that we can use the message of love and positivity as much now as we did then.

Ziggy Marley, a longtime favorite of mine, played a showcase last night at Sonos Studios in Hollywood, and my homegirl Hilary (of the always fun 72 and Sunny) hooked it up/made my day. His new album, Fly Rasta, is coming out this month, and in the Q and A preceding the tunes, he explained that Rasta to him is all about love and positivity. Fly with love, positively. I mean ... it's pretty easy, and way better, so why don't we all do that all the time? It seems so simple ... but that's how Marley's music makes you feel. You could tell just looking around the room.

I was making friends with everyone in the insanely long drink line - so long that even the classiest dames were double and triple fisting - and the positivity of people that dig this kind of music was tangibly evident from the moment we walked in the door.

A kind of stale interviewer guy from ET or something asked the usual new album questions, and all you did was wait for the answers from Marley's lilting patois that makes everyTING sound awesome. He dutifully responded to all the "Do you feel like you need to carry on reggase" type questions nicely (answering that one with "I don't need to put labels on tings, it's just music. I love music." Rad.), but really lit up when he spoke about loving to garden and grow "peas and potaytoes". He's going to show his kids how to take care of his garden while he's on tour for the new record. That new record packaging is recyclable and contains a seed packet for you to grow (I believe it's for wildflowers, not ganja, but still the coolest).

Marley and his fly band then played a short set for the packed to the acoustic cushioned ceiling crowd, that gave us the favorites like "Wild and Free" and "Dragonfly", as well as the brand new "I Don't Wanna Live On Mars" (about let's take care of our Earth so we don't have to split to other crazy planets, for Heaven's sakes! We like it here.) and "I Get Up" - about waking up every day and getting it done - positively.

A new friend next to me said, "I really want to hear "On A Beach In Hawai'i" tonight." I answered I was happy to hear all new stuff, but that all I for sure always need to hear is "Love Is My Religion". It's just so great and true. No sooner than the words were out of my mouth, the opening chords to it began, the guy nudged me, and everyone smiled and nodded at the truth ...

That is One Love.

*Fly Rasta is out April 15th ... and you should get it. You'll feel what I mean.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Venice Oceanarium At The Pier

Two of things I love most in life are the ocean and words. I've kept a quote book pretty much since I first learned to write, so it was with pure delight that on a picture-perfect (but extra windy) Sunday, I saw some of the most beautiful quotes about the sea ever lining the Venice Pier, courtesy of the Venice Oceanarium.

The Oceanarium is a "Museum without walls", and they set up most Sundays at the end of the pier, from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. They line the stroll down to the end of the pier with the beautiful quotes from the likes of Shakespeare and Neruda and Melville that nearly cause you to swoon over the side into the ocean below.

At the end of the pier they set up an ever-changing display of creatures and plants from the sea, to educate and fascinate ... only this week they were packing up early because the wind was blowing so crazy the tent was threatening to go overboard.

I kind of like that there's nothing really to do attraction-wise on our Venice Pier, that it really is only about the ocean, the view and that feeling that only comes from being on the water - or above it, as it were.

The Venice Oceanarium is another absolute treasure about Venice that we should all appreciate and support. They put on the extra cool and fun events like the annual Grunion Run parties (mark your books for the next, even bigger and more fun one than ever, Friday, May 16th!) , the great annual weekend long reading at the Breakwater of the entire Moby Dick, and the heart-melting quotes and wall-less museum most every Sunday.

It's so beautiful here on days like this that it's hard to put into words ... but they did.

Thank you, Oceanarium!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Art Crawl Is The Best

I love the Venice Art Crawl. I do. It's so fun every time, you always see people you know, and you always see some cool art that you'd like to have for yourself.  It reminds me of old First Fridays, when it was by and for the locals, pre-the shit show it has now become, that we all avoid.

The VAC feels old school because the pop up gallery operators (from shops to private galleries and homes) all have a sense of fun, drinks are served, music is played, and I actually saw MOSTLY Venetians at this last March one ... so many that it was actually a problem if you wanted to see all the art, because you kept stopping to catch up with friendly faces. Thus, I didn't get around to even a small fraction of the nearly 40 stops.

My first encounter was with a young man named Joey Thompson and his "Interactive Inspirational Art". He made what he called "Story kits" ... a frame made out of palm tree wood, with 52 blocks with art on them, and 52 matching blank blocks. The idea is that you give the painted one away, then take the blank one and write the story (however you like, so you can be creative too - he used pen and Sharpie, I might go more painty/flowery than that, so your frame winds up looking great) of how and who you gave it to on there. It's a very sweet idea, and you can get a kit from Thompson at He also makes roses out of palm leaves, which he presented me with as I took my leave. Art with a heart is the very best kind.

Another tent at the "Unique Boardwalk" stop featured bright, black lit pieces in Dayglo colors ... very Boardwalk indeed.

As were the vibrant skateboard decks also at this stop, all too pretty to ride.

Frank Strasser was showing at Hama Sushi, and then it was time to say hello to the Venice Symphony Orchestra friends at their fundraiser at the Containers on Main Street. In a very non-Art Crawl vibe, I was told that the Orchestra was not allowed to play that night because of some random ordinance I didn't understand. Dumb. So we had a beer and looked ahead to more music from them soon.

Jules Muck just finished a new mural on the side of this Main Street building. Every time I see a Venice building covered in an expansive mural, it makes me so happy. All buildings should have murals, it would be so much more fun-looking everywhere.

The Dennis Hopper mural faces the new Muck one, and a guy had a drone camera flying around catching the whole scene as it swooped around over our heads. That thing is super cool. (You can kind of see it in mid-air if you squint.)

Lightning Bolt and Venice Originals were both having fun parties, with snacks and beers, as everyone seemed to serving up tall PBR's on this night. To the point where Pabst should consider being an official sponsor.

The scene at Gotta Have It was spilling out on to the sidewalk, where even more PBR's were consumed as revelers admired the art of Miss Lacey Cowden (you will recognize it from The Hart and The Hunter's walls).

Cowden was really extra-exhibiting her talents, as she also played a full set of her story-telling ballads for the packed room. It was awesome. I love my friends.

From there, it was on to The Ave to see the Venice photography of Chuck Katz ... and to drink still more PBR's. Packed again, and a total blast to be there with random fun friends, some that I hadn't seen in literally years. People were OUT.

I regret to even say that the posse next moved only a couple doors down to The Townhouse to close out the night. Most VAC stops shut down at 10, and it was well past that by then. I'm mad at myself for missing other great art stops, like Sunny Bak and Ray Rae and about 30 others ... but the people I saw more than made up for that. Next time I will plan better, and factor in time to allow for surprise encounters ... or just drag them along. It's ALL good.

The next Venice Art Crawl is June 19th, and you really don't want to miss it. Any of it. Especially if you've lived here a while and miss your O.G. pals ... chances are you'll have a super fun reunion (sponsored by Pabst).