Art, Books, Drinks, and the Desert: L.A. Recap

My husband and I went out to L.A. again for the book party for “Wivenhoe Park“. We had some time to go to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree as well. I’m a little late on posting photos but I got sick in the desert, and still am! How I could go from -7 winter weather in the midwest to 74 degrees in Palm Springs and get ill is beyond me.

Random things I remember:

Ian Astbury in sweatpants waddling past me and thus ruining all illusions I’d held from my teen years. Driving a Dodge Charger through the desert and up steep hills. Lots of music gigs and time spent in Echo Park. Getting drunk at The Dresden Room and going to Jack in the Box for late night food (basically not much has changed in 11 years for me). Amazing Mai Tai drinks at Bootlegger Tiki. The Autry Museum with my friend Charity who was like a personal guide. So many cocktails — so many. The Juxtapoz Magazine 20th Anniversary show, which I liked, but — I was a tad disappointed in because of glaring omissions and odd inclusions that to me didn’t reflect the actual history or issues I have read since 1994. I didn’t make it to the John Currin show, but the Laura Krifka one more than made up for it; I think she is exceeding him if not on the same level! Record shopping in Highland Park. Drunk girls in West Hollywood crying in a restaurant bathroom about boys who hasn’t texted them. A $1,000 omelet on the menu at my hotel (it had caviar on it). Visiting shops in Joshua Tree opened by Ohioans. Smash Mouth being promoted on the marquee outside one of the casino resorts. Leaving my iPhone in a coffee shop for over an hour to find it had been untouched! Nights by the fire pit, lots of friends and parties and dogs and wine. Oh, and traffic! More and more every time I go back to visit I swear! I mean…Jeeeeez. And that means a special thanks to those of you who drove in from SF and the OC for Ben’s book party and other shenanigans, because my God that traffic is just unreal!

As much as I debate about it, I think this trip really squashed any question I had about moving back to Los Angeles. Just can’t do it. Things have changed (yet haven’t) and unless I devoted myself to the desert, the eastside, or had the money to purchase a house, it just stressed me out so much being there and all the memories of why I left came flooding back. I think the reason I went to so many art and music gigs when I lived there was to make it worth the stress and general anxiety I felt. The weather never made it worth it for me. So, I think I’ll stick to visits. I like being a tourist.

Make with the clicky for descriptions….

Book Tour Recap: Dixie-Narco edition

It’s been a while since I got back from my husband’s book tour, but a lot of photos later I am finally updating about it. Needless to say it was a blast and it timed well with our 13th wedding anniversary. Got to see a lot of old friends and made some new ones, too.

We did 7 dates in total. Of course, everyone at first thought Ben was also a musician or that we were also in a band. Anytime we saw bands who were clearly on tour at a rest stop, they looked us up and down trying to figure out who we were and our deal was. Every stop on the tour went well except for Birmingham, AL thanks to tornadoes (which being from Michigan I would say they were weak). At the same time I can’t call that night a total dud, because one woman came out just to see Ben, buy some books, and get a photo with him! We ended up at a dive — who weren’t afraid of the storms enough to close — where a man asked me if I wanted to smoke pot with him out of a toilet paper cardboard tube, outside in the rain, near an underpass. He was not happy I said no to this offer. In the end, the lights did go out in the dive, all except the jukebox which was on a Thin Lizzy kick, and we did not complain about that one bit.

Charlotte was a great time as always, and it turned into a karaoke Odessey of sorts by the end of the night. I had some video footage of Ben doing 24 Hour Party People at Snug Harbor, but I deleted it to spare him the embarrassment. Bryan Pierce who runs the karaoke at Snug did a great job of picking songs to go with Ben’s book. He had just tried out for “The Voice” and judging by what I saw, he should make it onto the show no problem! Benji Hughes also came out that night, and he bought Ben’s book as well!

The real start of the whole trip was my brother’s wedding in Chapel Hill. And why yes, my husband and I DID shut down the reception slow-dancing to AC/DC if you must know. We figured a while back that we may as well extend it into a book tour if we were going to be driving anyway; the West Virginia stretch being the most painful. But, driving in the South is a lot more pleasant than any other routes I have taken, and aren’t half as boring. Of course the desert is the best, but I take what I can. After years of traveling cross-country on multiple occasions, I also ate at a Waffle House for the first time ever, in S. Carolina. It wasn’t bad, actually. The only weird thing was people were allowed to smoke in there, and it was so…damn friendly. I’ve learned since that the company is owned by the Ritz-Carlton and this may be part of their success as a chain? If you are wondering, no, I didn’t get a waffle but I did try the hash browns.

Next we went on to Meridian, MS which of course I can’t ever talk about without referencing “Hell on Wheels” and the main character doing his whole “ever been to Meridian?” thing. We were treated like royalty thanks to our friend Bill who owns not only several cemeteries and a flower shop, but did a full-on “Bar Rescue” on a place called the Brickhouse that had 64 regional beers on tap. The bar in it’s previous incarnation was a haven fro bro’s and had a reputation for roofing girls. Not anymore! In fact there was a running joke how the Brickhouse was the werewolf bar and the place across the street was the vampire bar (yes forgive the “True Blood” reference) and thus clear lines had been drawn. Despite the clear sections of poverty mixed with a slight college town feel, Meridian had an almost desolate downtown that looked ripe for a comeback. We hope it will rise the way the rest of the South has been doing.

Onward then was New Orleans (duh!) where we got to meet up with many of our friends, some who flew in to meet us, others who had been there, and some who had just moved to the city. Ben’s book event was at Bailey Smith and Greg Dulli’s, R Bar, which had made up a special cocktail menu just for us. Three Sheets to the Kevin Sheilds was an absinthe base, and the Swervedriver was Ben’s favorite which was mezcal based. If you are into shoegaze music, you get why these were so exciting to us. Sure, Ben was the “opener” for the crawfish boil but that is still better than opening for a puppet show — not to mention he got free crawfish! Terrible street side vegan burritos; brunch at The Columns; nuns at an art show; drinks in the 9th; a brunch fight club I may or may not have joined; poolside at the W hotel; record shopping between Desire Street and Piety Street (that must be a punchline to something); and all the usual we seem to get up to when we visit are just some of what I can remember. This was also my first time driving in New Orleans and I’m happy to say it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. Sure we missed JazzFest and NoizeFest, but I was a little sad we missed AzzFest. Only after driving past the Hi-Ho Lounge as the girls lined-up for that event were we a bit sad we didn’t go after all. Next time perhaps?

Onward to Nashville! I had never been and we met up with an old friend of mine from high school who showed us around. We were staying a bit out at Opryland, which is a bizarre site that seems a bit like the Trinity Broadcast Network campus mixed with Graceland or Six Flags. The good thing was the free shuttles and the fact that cabs can be found everywhere as means to encourage tourists to go downtown and beyond. The bookstore Howlin’ Books was amazing and also part of the infamous Grimey’s record store. A music town it is for sure, not that I expected less. We toured the Johnny Cash Museum which is small but somehow perfect. We also went to Jack White’s Third Man Records which was nice enough but gave me a creepy Scientology vibe! It didn’t help that the women on staff all had the same red color and hair style to go with their uniforms (yellow and black is his new white and red, btw). I never got around to buying some cowboy boots, but we’ve been invited back to the bookstore for the next tour, so I’m sure I’ll find something when the time comes.

A typical Tuesday night at Robert’s in Nashville, even my husband got up to dance for a moment. I was surprised not only how crazy it was on a Tuesday on all of Broadway, but also the fact that at 3am we had cabs lined up to take us back to the hotel! We met some interesting rockabilly guys from Germany who were on a tour through Vegas, Memphis, and Nashville, so of course we shut Robert’s down with them. But I tell you, that’s the last time I let a couple a Germans buy the beers late at a honkey tonk; my head was pounding fierce the next day.

The last stop was in Cincinnati where we got to hang out with dear old friends. I feel dumb I didn’t get a picture of us all. The DJ for the event played all the great old and new shoegaze-inspired bands, and I think I had one too many bourbon and ginger ales! I liked that the venue had a medical theme going on as well. Someone who my husband hadn’t seen in 30 years even came out to buy a book. Crazy.

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The Rake’s End in Cincinnati.

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The Verve print at our host’s home.

At the distillery for the liquor we got each other drunk on the weekend we got together, 14 years ago that week. Romance!

VendettasJim

If you are thinking of doing a book tour I would suggest to make it coincide with a vacation you had already planned, or other trips you feel you could tie it in with. I have heard from some very well-known authors and very not well-known authors about how your experience and the sales can be all over the map. For instance, the Meridian, Mississippi date was the most sales because a book club was meeting and librarians came; I expected that date to be the dud — not Birmingham. I’ve also noticed people just really don’t dig book signings the way they do rock shows or even art shows. It just isn’t exciting. We did our best to make it about rock ‘n’ roll and have raffle prizes and drink specials in the non-bookstore venues, and I think those went way better. So, unless you are a best-selling author or a cult hero, I’d look at your book tour as a vacation. We were lucky in that we knew people in each city who helped us decide on venues and all of that — especially cities we didn’t know well. It is much like being a touring band: get a thick skin and if a city is a dud, you go back next time anyway! Every book store and venue treated us well, so there is no reason not to.

Also be prepared for crummy amounts of press no matter how far in advance you do it. Calendar listings are fine, but the fact I sent out review copies of the novel that were requested and I got no results was annoying. This was to both to every arts & culture events blog I could find (most did at least post a listing), as well as print media to the literature editors and the music editors. Then again, one bookstore owner told me that when a rock critic starts to write fiction — let alone gets it published — those who are also music writers or rock critics get resentful and won’t write about it or promote it because that’s what they aspire to do. A musician writing a book seems to be no problem, but music writers writing a novel apparently isn’t welcomed by certain journalists. Hmmm.

Whatever the case, it was nice to hear people had read it in one sitting or gotten copies for their friends. As a rule men tend to not read novels as much as women do, and it was funny to hear over and over again, “no you have to read this, I know you don’t like books but you’ll actually like this one!

Ben Vendetta Book Tour, Spring 2014

BookTourSouth

Starting on Saturday is the tour for this novel. Looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones. We’re calling this the “Dixie-Narco” tour in honor of this EP.

Many of these events are going to have DJs, drink specials, raffle prizes, and Mr. Vendetta reading or doing a Q&A session. Come for the literature and stay for the hangover!

It’s All Rock To Me, Anyhow

If you like shoegaze, indie, straight-up rock, psychedelia and all those things in-between, then here are some of the various bands and songs I’m liking right now. Some are current, some not.

Wooden Shjips

Smashing Orange

Singapore Sling

Weekend

S.C.U.M.

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

Loop

Resurrecting the Record Label

So the scoop is that the record label is coming off super-duper-mega hiatus. Reissues and licensing only, no new bands, but still. Things have changed with our distributor, production costs haven’t really gone down much, and really bands have no reason for labels anymore; so let’s see if the business can avoid being in the red! Thankfully we had used the opposite structure/method of major labels, finding ourselves in the black when all was said and done. There were some reissues I wanted to do while on hiatus that other labels snatched up; we’ll see about the rest I had in mind. Things won’t be as active as they were, but Elephant Stone will at least have a faint and steady pulse when it comes to new stuff — if you know what I mean.

We finally joined the 21st Century and you can find Elephant Stone on Facebook

And as always, Elephant Stone on LastFm (some free downloads there)

I’ve also started screwing around with iMovie made my first few videos! Well, slideshows really, but I’ll be getting myself an HD iFlip this weekend. Now I just have to figure out how or if I should transfer all of my footage from college that is stuck on Super8, hi8, Beta, 3/4″ tapes and so forth. For those who didn’t know, I went to art school to study film mainly because I wanted to be a film editor. Why? Because it comes easy to me, I find it fun, and I’m actually really good at it. However, during time spent in an internship at a production company I saw how little control an editor has over anything, and really, it is the orders of the director you have to follow. At least collaborations with other students gave me some amount of freedom in school. This was also in the days when FinalCutPro had barely come out, and everything was still analog or on an Avid; not to mention 20+ students all using the same Avid caused it to crash often. I bagged the whole film thing, after seeing how the production side really was, and how unhappy most editors seemed to be as a rule. Technology has changed so fast too, just about every program or piece of equipment I know how to use is obsolete.

In any event, here are my first two little videos I screwed around with. One is for the band New Planet Trampoline who broke up long ago sadly, but were one of the Cleveland bands the label had signed when we were still based in Los Angeles. I decided to use my photos from a shitty area on the westside in Cleveland. The other was my first attempt at playing with iMovie using my photos from this trip, and I happened to throw on my favorite band, Singapore Sling. It fit the images so well, I decided to keep it. I think it highlights how both beautiful and violent the imagery of the Catholic church can be.

I think they turned out rather well considering I had never used this program before, and it took me little effort and less than 15 minutes to put them both together.

My Douchebag Band

I’m starting a band, it is called Black Wolf Vietnam Fuck Mountain — a name that is very now don’t you think?
It is just me and a gal pal so far; anytime a chick band pops up people pay attention because it is oh-so rare you know. Especially a female bass player or drummer. But if you are a guy with a scuzzy half-grown beard, you can join too, and maybe write some songs about how you’d rather knit than get laid. Maybe you’d rather write songs about how you’re actually sort of scared of girls, or how bummed you are the indie-tastic chick at Starbucks didn’t give you as much foam on your latte this time because she’s got her eye on the new bike messenger dude.

See, this band is already built and designed for a purpose from the get-go: to make it baby! You’ll see us at CMJ and Pitchfork Fest in no time. All we need now are t-shirts with an 80s retro twist, and some limited edition cheap crappy CDRs to sell at shows; the hidden track can be the sounds of my air conditioner turning on and off, or my cat crying on loop, which ever.

My husband is going to be our manager, so already that creates “conflict” and tension when on tour which is what all young bands today need. His job as manager of course will be to buy our chicken sandwiches at Wendy’s, and negotiate how much free beer we get at each venue for playing.

I don’t know why I left Hollywood sometimes; I’d make a great junior VP hack at any network, Development chick, or reality show producer.