west coast retro rock scene
Monday, August 21 2000
It was reassuring this morning to discover that my housemate John and his two female assistants had been playing my Pavement album Slanted and Enchanted while I was gone yesterday afternoon. Pavement has a refreshing mid-90s East Coast hipness about it that, while probably still persisting in Charlottesville, is difficult to find out here in California.
(Lots of readers wrote in to inform me that Pavement were actually from Stockton, California. I guess the reason I never hear about them anymore here in California is because their time, the mid-90s, is now over.)
Laurie, the community DBA, is very outgoing and friendly in that way that should be familiar to anyone who has ever known a Renaissance Faire enthusiast. She's always popping into my cubicle, either offering to get me coffee or inviting me to join her in going to some meeting that I would otherwise neglect to attend. A couple of months ago her buoyant persistence was instrumental in getting me to show up for most of the classes in a series of extremely informative SQL lectures. These expanded my knowledge of database design and development, inflating the salary I can demand at the next job I seek.
Today, though, she invited me to attend a meeting about the new company credit union. I had no interest in going, and I told her so. "But when you go to the meeting, you don't have to work!" she exclaimed. "But I can stay here at my desk and not work either," I pointed out. I don't think she fully understands how to cope with an office job. When I don't have work, I don't complain, I just find something to do and keep busy. Laurie, on the other hand, draws attention to her inactivity. If I were her manager, I'd prefer her being more like me.
In the evening my boss Linda invited me to come with her to see a show in Silverlake (just east of Hollywood) at a place called Spaceland. Lacking any other connections to what could possibly be cool in my new hometown, I took her up on her invitation. Later, after I'd snacked heavily on corn chips and salsa, she picked me up at my place and we headed east down Santa Monica Blvd, talking about our various personal problems as we went.
Our initial destination was Park La Brea, an austere ensemble of high rise apartments in the flatlands of Beverly Hills. Up on the tenth floor of one of these towers lives Julian, the young Operations Manager with whom Linda has been non-platonically involved. We joined him out in front and rode up on the elevator.
After we'd settled into the remote-control-cluttered-couch with our beers, etc., we hung out listening to Soundtrack of Our Lives. Linda and Julian were soon engaged in an intense game of Puzzlefighter on the PlayStation videogame console. Puzzlefighter is an incredibly complex descendant of Tetris, and I had trouble following its garish graphic iconography. But Linda and Julian were all into it.
Somewhere along the line Linda, who once worked for a bank software firm, began telling the remarkable story of the European Union Bank. It seems that back in 1996, a new bank appeared on the scene calling itself the European Union Bank. It sent out some spam telling people that now they could finally do the same as the big boys, get a bank account offshore, far away from pesky governments, regulators and tax men. Evidently millions of dollars were entrusted to this bank by America's many internet-equipped paranoid nutcases. They didn't pay any special mind to the fact that the bank had none of the history and monumentality of a conventional brick and marble institution. But the bank only existed in cyberspace. And it probably wasn't a bank at all. Doing research for her employer, Linda studied this bank in detail. She noted that it had won a number of prestigious web awards.
Then one day the bank, along with the money in all of its accounts, completely vanished from the face of the earth, leaving not a single shred of evidence connecting it to anyone. It had been, in effect, the perfect scam, exploiting the weakness of the early web and the gullibility of people interacting with it.
I was amazed. I had never heard this story before. Why hadn't it been covered in Wired or Salon? Why hadn't there been congressional investigations? Evidently the whole fiasco was somehow covered up and the victims (who were probably involved in criminal activity and paranoid to begin with) successfully silenced. In response to my amazement, Linda went off to do a web search for information about the European Union Bank and came up with a few empty pages and another that required you to download a custom media viewer. We had a good laugh about that one, imagining the havoc such a program could wreak upon an investigative reporter's computer files.
From Julian's tenth floor windows we could see into dozens of apartments on the neighboring towers, each one its own channel of mundane human existance, much like what you'd see with a web cam, only much smaller (unless you happened to have a telescope). Some people had their blinds up and didn't seem to care what others could see, but most people were enforcing some degree of privacy. I imagined a new possibility for webcams: those that are equipped with telescopic lenses and robotic positioning, allowing web users to go from room to room looking for something other than the ho-hum and the hum drum.
In the midst of our socializing, Julian's housemate materialized, and later a couple of very young ladies arrived.
After some listless lack of decision about where to eat, we did dinner at a place in West Hollywood called the Cadillac Café. It was a hip, retro-mid-modern-themed place with campy pop art on the walls. The waiters all had thick-rimmed glasses and seemed to be cranked to eleven on crystal meth. I had virtually no appetite and could only choke down about half of my black bean soup. The coffee was actually straight-up espresso, no doubt about it. I felt a little like the waiters looked after my second cup.
After dinner, Julian called it a night and Linda dropped him off at Park La Brea. He said he was tired, but it's also possible he didn't like the prospect of running into Linda's estranged husband at Spaceland (a favorite hangout for both Linda and her husband).
Spaceland is your typical darkly-lit mid-sized alterna-pop music venue. On Monday nights there's no cover charge and a fairly good turnout. The chicks range from vampish to mod in a mostly femme sort of way (in contrast to Linda, who has more of an androgynous hippie thing going on). The guys all have the fashionably neglected look that Beck made famous. Indeed, this very bar is one of Beck's favorite haunts. Linda said she saw one of Beck's former girlfriends in attendance tonight, along with other semi-celebrities, including one of the guys from Velvet Crush.
In complete disregard for California regulations, Spaceland even has an indoor smoking room. I went in there on two occasions - both times drawn by morbid fascination. The smoke was so thick that I began coughing immediately, as if I'd just deeply inhaled a cigarette myself. It was a gas chamber. I doubt anyone could survive in that place for longer than a couple days without dying of accelerated lung cancer.
And then, there he was, a very familiar, somewhat plump, somewhat swarthy evil-mod face from back in the days of Charlottesville. But, damn, I couldn't remember his name! To make matters worse, he couldn't remember mine either, and we just stood there exclaiming how happy we were to see one another. He finally asked me what my name was and I told him. I mean, it's been a long time and we both have smoked a lot of pot over the intervening years. I knew his name was something sort of Russian, but what? Oh yeah, Nikolai! Anyway, so now Nikolai lives in Silverlake and is in a band that occasionally plays at Spaceland. He's recorded a CD and is eager to sell it. When I've had a chance to listen to it, I'll try hocking it on this website.
At some point I got the chance to meet Linda's estranged husband. He's a programmer from Sweden and looks like a natural blond Kurt Cobain. He seemed to be in a fairly good mood tonight and didn't offer to kick my ass for being in the company of his wife for the evening.
In terms of music, well, the first act was a group of black jazz musicians, something of an anomaly for Spaceland. In the men's room I heard some guys talking about it saying that this was the first time they'd ever heard jazz at this venue. I couldn't tell you whether it was good jazz or bad jazz; I usually dislike non-melodic jazz such as they played. For their part, the retro mod crowd went out of its way to be warm and receptive to the jazz musicians, suddenly behaving like a jazz club and doing such things as applauding after the solos.
The featured music of the night was a band called Whiskey Biscuit. I'd heard a few of their songs before on Linda's car stereo and sort of liked them, though they sound a lot like the Rolling Stones. The lead singer is an unlikely Mick Jagger, a scrawny little guy with thin lips and a big nose. But his authentic Louisiana drawl was more convincing than Mick's blues affectations. After listening to most of their songs, I'd have to say that the music transcends the Rolling Stones in its tendency to embrace such modern rock and roll advancements as "wall of sound" rhythm guitar. And all the necessary jaded disaffection was there, especially important in this particular venue.
The Rakoczy Family Homepage - probably a folksy website decorated with macrame GIFs and dull "family news" such as "Barbara and Randall are going to be celebrating their 25th anniversary on December 30th. Click here to send them a free cyberhug." Well, aside from the tacky Christian fish symbol, wrong. This site features some of the most shockingly disgusting photographs of an elderly woman's foot that you can possibly imagine. It's all presented matter-of-factly, like it's just another day in the noble Rakoczy Family history. I'm wondering if it's a joke. If it is, it's subtle. No, I had nothing to do with it.
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