Posts Tagged ‘Long Beach’

Music Tastes Good’s Bittersweet Symphony

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

Subtitle: Josh Fischel’s Music Taste Good…even without Josh

Long Beach tastes awfully good this weekend. Beautiful, but for some of us a bit bittersweet, too. Thanks, Josh (and everyone at @musictastesgood).

Dude, Ween just played my festival!

That is exactly what Josh Fischel would say the next time I saw him. If only there were a next time. I know just how his voice would sound, just how his eyes would look, just how he’d smile as soon as he finished the last syllable.

The emphasis would have been on his pleasure, not on the “my.” He would never try to take all the credit. It would never have been called “Josh Fischel’s Music Tastes Good” were he living. But he’s not, and so it is. As it should be. It’s his baby. Josh Fischel is survived by family, a whole helluva lot of friends, a grateful city, and a music festival.

He’d be so stoked (a totally Josh phrase, so stoked) with what his friends and family just did to keep his baby alive and thriving, and not just because Ween played his festival. (Although, dude, Ween. All you need to know about how epic that was is that Josh made space in his music-crammed life for a Ween cover band named Stallion among his ongoing projects during his last years.) Compile a playlist of the artists on the lineup, and you’ll immediately hear that the diversity Josh championed at last year’s festival returned this go-round in full effect, diversity showcased on a pair stages serving up fantastic sound all day(s) and diggable lighting by night.

There’s no getting around that the setting for the inaugural Music Tastes Good was magical. Transforming a chunk of the East Village Arts District into a tiny music town with full-size performances happening every which way you turned was truly inspired. But undoubtedly there were plenty of pragmatic reasons to move it somewhere a little more readymade for such an event. That somewhere was Marina Green Park (the green swath on the south side of Shoreline as it curves up toward Ocean Boulevard), and the Music Tastes Good team smartly played to the park’s advantages. The most obvious is the topography. The two stages were located at opposite ends of the long, grassy stretch, with the large variety of vendors placed so that there were both wide thoroughfares and always plenty of room to lie down, dance, or do whatever else you felt however near to or far from each stage that was in your comfort zone. They call it flow. This festival had flow.

Then there was the art (i.e., in addition to the music). Last year’s Music Tastes Good had some nice pieces, but this year’s arts component benefited by lesser and more unified acreage featuring slightly more installations (all of them excellent in their own ways), thereby producing more of ambiance (including the Garage Theatre’s parade, a New Orleans-style second line (courtesy of Sea Funk Brass Band) hybridized with a bit of Burning Man meets a dragon dance with an undersea theme and aerial silks) than mere decoration.

And maybe even more so than last year, there was this vibe. It’s not just a Long Beach thing, but it’s definitely a Long Beach thing. In this town it always seems not just okay to do your own thing, but right. I imagine that vibe wasn’t lost on the people who came from elsewhere (I know it wasn’t lost on the ones I talked with), and it’s the kind of thing that makes people want to come back.

For those of us who live here, of course, it’s the kind of thing that makes us want to stay (and that makes so many people who’ve left but not strayed too far fall in love with Long Beach again every time they return). For us, Music Tastes Good—this year’s, especially—typifies in bigger-than-life fashion that Long Beach thing where the cool event you go to is made so much cooler by the people who are there. We connect, we reconnect, we celebrate our community—a celebration that makes our community better still.

There was never a better catalyst for that beautiful feedback loop than Josh, and nothing about Josh Fischel’s Music Tastes Good would have made him more stoked than that. That’s the one simply sucky thing about this year’s festival: Josh’s absence. He isn’t here to enjoy how his labors keep bearing fruit. He doesn’t get to see how much he’s still doing for us. And Ween played his festival. Dude!

“I’m leaving the party […] much earlier than I’d like,” terminally ill Christopher Hutchins remarked about a year before his death from esophageal cancer in 2011. “[…] And not only that, but the party will go on without me—an even more horrible thought!” There’s a complementary feeling for those of us remaining at the party after a loved one has left. It’s as if the party’s continuation is unjust and we’re doing our dear departed a disservice by lingering. But continue it does. So we can sit in a corner and mope, or we can get up and enjoy it as much as we can. That’s not forgetting; if we do it right, it’s honoring the memory and the life.

Josh knew that. He honored it in “The Ballad of Bargain Music”, a song that’s more than a little about loss. We go on and on and on, yeah, we go on. It’s a simple statement of that profound truth. We go on. That’s Josh Fischel’s Music Tastes Good. We’re going on—exactly as he would have wanted. And the party’s better for his having been here a while. He may have left much too early, but you damn well know he was here.

RIP, Josh Fischel; or A Big Man Leaves a Big Hole Behind

Friday, September 29th, 2017

matt-maguire
I met Josh Fischel in early 2013. He died yesterday, September 29, 2016. No, that can’t be right. That would mean everything I experienced of and with this man took place in less than four years. That can’t be right.

The first three things I learned about Josh were probably the first three things most people learned about Josh when they met him: he was a big bearded man with a big voice and big plans. Josh was always looking toward the next bigger and better thing he could put together. In 2013, that was RIOTstage. The idea was to create a new niche in the Long Beach theatre scene by staging edgy, raucous musicals. The first two were to be Tommy and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

He never got there because it turned out he was a little too good at putting together big ensemble musical performances of a more eclectic nature. Like the time he brought together two-dozen musicians to perform Abbey Road—which was only the second half of the show. Or the time he and a string quartet did Elvis Costello’s The Juliet Letters, then after intermission had a 13-piece band he put together do Pet Sounds in its detailed entirety (strings, horns, tympani, sleigh bells, glockenspiel, guïro, the whole shebang). Or hey, remember those times he transformed huge city spaces to do Let It Be, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Wall?

That’s just a few shows. During the same time period he also played his own music throughout the country and abroad. He co-created and curated the Live After 5 series. And of course you know about last weekend’s Music Tastes Good festival. He did all that.

He didn’t do it alone, of course. One of his great talents was bringing together the necessary talent—musical, administrative, logistical, technical—to hit whatever target was in his sights. For every one of his projects during these last four years, invariably the individuals he handpicked for a given project were mightily impressed with the new people they got to work with.

I think the reason so many different people got to work on Josh’s big ideas was his ability to see people as specific, idiosyncratic individuals and to treat and employ them as such, very consciously (as he once told me) putting them in positions to contribute uniquely and successfully. On several occasions I was lucky enough to be one of those individuals, and more than once Josh asked me to venture outside of my comfort zone. I was always willing to go there when he asked, because when Josh put his faith in you, you began to believe.

His communication style is something I will miss greatly. To be sure, Josh could do the charismatic diplomacy thing that is probably requisite for any impresario, but on a more personal level Josh would not hesitate to let you know when he was annoyed or pissed off. He would listen to your idea and accept it if he agreed, but he had no problem unceremoniously shooting it down if he didn’t. He did not pretend to like everyone equally—or at all—just as he did not hide his affection.

One of the best bonding experiences Josh and I had came out of a misunderstanding that got me partly thrown off RIOTstage’s Americana. During the initial stages of production I was a consultant and contributed some content. I was also slated to perform, but a few poorly-phrased e-mails on my part to an assistant who didn’t know me well enough to get where I was coming from led to his feeling it would be best if I were replaced in that capacity. We talked it out, patiently and earnestly, and came away from the conflict with no hard feelings and a better sense of each other’s character. He asked me to be a part of several projects afterwards. That’s the kind of guy he was: when you resolved an issue with him, it really was resolved.

I was honored to be in his confidence, a role I enjoyed because—as he told me on numerous occasions—he valued my reactions and that I knew how to keep my mouth shut when he wanted to talk about something that wasn’t for public disclosure. That’s not a story about what a fab friend I was, but an example of how Josh saw people for the individuals they are, and how good he was at letting his friends know how he felt about us.

No reminiscence about Josh can rightly exist without thinking about Abbie, his wife and partner. I add the latter title because “wife” doesn’t really get to the heart of it. It was clear even to those of us who aren’t new-agers that they were spiritual partners. Her warmth and support—which extended not just to him but outward to everyone they knew—sustained him in whatever he did.

I imagine it must have sustained him in what turned out to be his last days, as he plowed through the finish line of Music Tastes Good with little sleep (I asked him over coffee a couple of weeks ago if he was getting enough sleep: he just rolled his eyes). I imagine it’s part of what made it possible for people like me—people who knew about his health struggles of the past year or so, people who couldn’t help noticing how much worse his hearing had gotten, people who were startled when they hugged him at how emaciated his frame had become—to be caught completely off-guard by his passing yesterday.

But what also made it such a shock was that he was just Josh fucking Fischel, a boss, a force of nature, too big to fail. When he gave me that big Josh grin Sunday as I congratulated him for launching Long Beach into a better future, the kind of future he always dreamed of for this city he loved heart and soul, I could never have conceived that he’d be gone in just four days. I only imagined that his future would be what he said it would be: a couple of weeks wrapping up Music Tastes Good details, a three-week European sojourn with Abbie, then on to his next big thing. After all, isn’t that the way these last four years have been: Josh says, Josh does?

Just four years? That can’t be right. It’s not right. It’s true, but it’s not right. There is nothing right about Josh being gone so soon.

The loss of Josh leaves a big hole in the Long Beach community (and beyond), a hole that will never be filled. But the fruits of his too-brief presence can never be rotted by something as mingy and base as death. “There’s a lot of untapped talent in Long Beach, a lot of people who just aren’t getting seen or heard,” he told me two-and-a-half years ago, when much of Long Beach was still getting to know him. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to create RIOTstage. […] There is so much talent around here—it just needs to be harnessed. I’m not saying I’m necessarily the guy to do that, but I’m definitely going to be one of the guys.”

You definitely were.
mattmaguire3

Notes
*Photo credit: Matt Maguire
*Yes, the crude double-entendre of the title is intentional. Josh loved that sort of thing.

– LN & the Allies of WWIII – the LBC Here, Now, Forever

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

ln allies(Album artwork by Christopher Lyles)

Don’t Do Anything! (This is Happening)
LN & the Allies of WWIII

Most artists yearn to create work that will last. We feel it in our bones. If I can just leave SOMETHING behind…. We marvel uncomprehendingly at those monks making sand mandalas, working in shifts for weeks while knowing their meticulous efforts will be wiped away almost as soon they are completed. That seems to us like a religious or philosophical exercise. Shakespeare, Kubrick, The Beatles, Van Gogh—that’s what the rest of us want: to make great art that will be outlive us, that will live forever. Jazz is the classic improvisational medium, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a jazzman with no interest in making a recording, in preserving even the most spontaneous of artistic expressions. You’ll note that Banksy has made a film and put out several books, not content to confine himself to the ephemerality of street art. The moment may be what matters most in the moment, but when the moment’s over, we look toward tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, wanting to see ourselves there.

Judging by her deeds, Ellen Warkentine has shown less interest in tomorrow than any great artist I can name, though I had no hint of this when I first met her back in the aughts. At that time she was holding down keys and backing vocals in Alyssandra [Nighswonger] and the Daymakers, a regular band doing mostly regular things, such as making an album. But a hint of what the next decade would be like for Warkentine could be seen from September 2010’s “Alyssandra and the Daymakers’ Vaudeville Folk Spectacular” at the Art Theatre. With tap dancers, poetry, “amazing feats of strength by Strong Bear,” a Dr. Seuss reading, multiple video components, cross-dressed Russian absurdism, and a slew of guest musical artists, this was more of a happening than a mere album-release show.

Soon that band had run its course. But while Nighswonger (one of Warkentine’s regular collaborators) has expended prodigious energy since then on a steady diet of conventional live performance and making numerous studio recordings—along with putting together events of all shapes and sizes—Warkentine has confined her output almost exclusively to the ephemeral. The Nuthaus, her little estate in the Willmore District, will be fondly recalled by those who were there for legendary soirées of all stripes (“Remember that Halloween when they transformed the entire house and environs into an immersive theatrical experience, where each space had its own little sub-narrative?”). There have been the site-specific shows she’s done with the itinerant Four Larks (such as the much-praised The Temptation of St. Antony. There was a string of one-off musical events (Abbey Road, The Wall, The Nightmare Before Christmas) put on by the late, great RIOTstage. There’s the Balboa Amusement Company Orchestra, which live scores silent films for one-time-only performances (next up: Nosferatu on October 14 at Sunnyside Cemetery). Even when Warkentine did form her own full-fledged band—Sex! Money! Power!—and commit a few songs to (the digital equivalent of) tape, the recordings were an afterthought, only an ante toward the real payoff: events that were half 21st-century low-tech multimedia extravaganza, half Vaudeville variety hour with S!M!P! as the house band. Don’t get it? You had to be there.

There’s a common thread tying all of this together: impermanence. None of these endeavors was built to last. But there were always these songs, these wonderful songs, crude demos and loose jam sessions that were pleading to be fleshed out and fully realized, begging to be allowed to make their way out into the world. And although she certainly took her sweet time about it, with the six-song album Don’t Do Anything! (This is Happening), finally Warkentine—leading the group LN & the Allies of WWIII—has staked a claim to permanence.

Customarily, six songs lasting a grand total of 26 minutes would be considered an EP, but Don’t Do Anything! (This is Happening) comprises a grand listening experience that both flows and suspends the flow of time, leaving you unsure where and when you are once you come out the other side. It’s a trick Warkentine and company (drums and bass guitar, ukulele and harp, piano and electric piano, cello and violin, trombone, trumpet, and French horn, plus layer upon layer of backing and gang vocals) pull off by combining unadorned melody with counterpoint, whimsy with wistfulness, silliness and sublimity, manifold layers of sonic depth and breadth with space and quietude, all with a genre-defying theatricality with dashes of Björk, The Beatles, and Kate Bush that somehow got sprinkled into Roaring ‘20s café society.

It’s tempting to write a little treatise on each song, so much do all of them (or at least five of the six) keep things not only interesting but surprising as they wend their little ways, giving you a chance to discover gem after gem in stratum after stratum. Compositionally there is nary a part that doesn’t perfectly complement all those around it, making maximum use of semi-professional production (such as nakedly lo-fi drums). Each melody line, section, riff, and fill is tasteful, and each repeats exactly as many times as it should. Each musical element is dialed in at just the right volume (okay, maybe here and there the bass is a bit loud) and finds its own little home in the mix. This is a real stereo recording, kids. Headphones highly encouraged. On the magnificent opener, “Disaster!”, Warkentine’s lead vocals are no more prominently featured than the host of back-ups (some in the background, some curling right up against your ears), the first taste of how every element on the album is bent to serve the whole. And new elements keep popping in, right through the divergence of the two separate drum sets (split L & R) as the song winds to its conclusion.

All of the fancy arrangement details—about which I’ve only scratched the surface—wouldn’t mean much without strong songs at their center. But Warkentine’s material would work with her alone at a piano. Her songwriting combines a knack for both playfulness and wistfulness (that word again)—sometimes simultaneously—with instantly memorable melodies and clever phrasing, all of which Warkentine sings with a heartfelt nuance that extends through every syllable and down to the softest surd.

That craftswomanship is why “Can’t Help Myself” works despite being the least dynamic and least imaginatively arranged/produced song on the album. It also earns its keep by giving you a breather after the adventurousness of “Disaster!” and “Dark Cloud” (imagine sitting in a speakeasy violating the Volstead Act as Portishead-like phonographic crackles and telephonic vocals open up a wormhole that tugs you toward the future). Anywhere else it might have been a bit of a momentum-killer, but here it’s an effective evocation of longing that helps you settle in for a moment before your journey continues in earnest. It’s the sort of misdirection needed for any good magic trick, fooling you into thinking that maybe the remaining tracks can’t possibly clear the high bar set by the first two. Wrong!

Moreover, the ukulele of “Can’t Help Myself” perfectly sets up the double-ukulele attack (the softest attack ever) of closer “Don’t Do Anything! (This is Happening)”—tied with “Disaster!” for my fave on an album that is nearly nothing but highlights. Floating atop the musical rippling that aurally reifies the waters of the words, Warkentine’s lovely, longing vocal resonates on that aesthetic plane where melancholy and joy meet in a metaphysical confluence where you find yourself in tears whose signification is a mystery even to you.

And I found myself in the ocean
And I found myself at your feet
Tucked so neatly in the bottle
Where your fingers folded me

Oh, I hoped you would find me there
‘Cause you showed me the way back here
I’m the message you waited for
I said 

 Do, don’t do anything
‘Cause this is happening 

In the time of Auto-Tune, Don’t Do Anything! (This is Happening) is—imperfections and all—a perfect antidote to the worst of the zeitgeist, eminently human in our oft-inhuman world, untethered to trends or marketing formulae, with a studied but authentic raggedness that only augments the music’s undeniable charm. And while this is Warkentine’s magnum opus, it is not hers alone. Don’t Do Anything! (This is Happening), released September 9th, 2017 at (what else?) an interactive multimedia spectacular of costumery, performance, and installation art that took over both floors of the Packard Long Beach, is a work that celebrates the communal, capitalizing on the possibility of what a community can co-create.

Warkentine has long been at the center of such a community in the little patch of spacetime that is Long Beach of the 2010s, choosing for most of that era to focus on the fleeting. But although all things must pass—Warkentine and a full one-third of her bandmates have moved out of Long Beach, and cellist Alex Bradley (to whom, along with RIOTstage founder Josh Fischel, the album is dedicated) has passed on—LN & the Allies of WWIII have captured a little of the magic that has been here all along. Listen to this album and you’ll see what I mean. Listen to it 30 years from now and you won’t have to remember when, because it will live on. For those who have ears to hear, this is 26 minutes of timeless music that is sure to last.

(Get it here and have it forever: https://ellenwarkentine.bandcamp.com/releases. Yeah, you can listen for free, but five bucks is a bargain for eternity, pal.)

Your Marijuana Voting Guide: Yes on 64 and MM, No on MA

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Election Day is coming, and maybe you’re not sure how to vote on the various marijuana measures before you. May I be of service?

State Measure 64
In 1996, California lived up to its progressive reputation by becoming the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. But since then voters first in Oregon and Colorado, then in Washington and Alaska have taken over as trailblazers in the fight to disperse the haze of reefer madness, legalizing marijuana for recreational use while we lag behind. Time to catch up. YES on 64. It’s ridiculous we’re not already over the hump.

Long Beach Measures MA and MM
“The medical-marijuana movement is here, and it’s something we have to deal with and accept,” said Councilmember (now Mayor) Robert Garcia in 2009. Now it’s seven years later, and medpot dispensaries remain banned citywide despite Long Beach residents voting in favor of legalizing marijuana for even recreational use in 2012. The Long Beach City Council, which has done everything it can to obstruct access to cannabis within city limits since repealing the ordinance that allowed a couple dozen to set up shop in 2011, has spent $433,000 of Long Beach taxpayer money to put MA on the ballot to compete with MM, a measure placed on the ballot by medpot proponents. MM would remove the ban and allow 26 to 34 dispensaries to set up shop. MA does not remove the ban—it just grabs extra money should MM pass. How much more? For starters, while MM taxes medpot at 6%, MA allows for up to 8%. So if you think it’s wrong to tax medpot while prescription meds are tax-free, then that’s up to 33% more wrong. (FYI, Los Angeles manages to get by with 6%.)

Things may be less clear when it comes to recpot. The pro-MA argument—penned by Garcia, LBPD Chief Robert Luna, and LBFD Chief Mike Duree—claims that “the tax rate on recreational marijuana would be zero without Measure MA”; but in comparing MA and MM in his analysis for the sample ballot, City Attorney Charles Parkin says only that “[c]urrently Long Beach has a tax [viz., up to 10% on gross receipts] on medical and non-medical (i.e., recreational) marijuana,” and that MM “would reduce the City’s maximum gross receipts tax rate from 10% to 6%, and limit collection of this tax to retail dispensaries.” And although there is some inconsistent language in MM and in Long Beach Municipal Code Section 3.80.261 (which is what MM would amend), that chapter of the muni code concerns “MARIJUANA BUSINESSES,” which are defined as “any activity that involves, but is not limited to transporting, dispensing, delivering, selling at retail or wholesale, manufacturing, compounding, converting, processing, preparing, storing, packaging or testing, any part of the plant cannabis sativa L, or any of its derivatives.” “Marijuana Dispensary” is defined with the same all-encompassing language, and under under MM (whose language explicitly covers both not-for-profit and for-profit businesses), “Every Marijuana Dispensary shall pay business tax at a rate of six percent (6%) of Gross Receipts.” Mark my words: if MM passes but MA is defeated, the City will not throw up their hands and say, “Well, we can’t tax recpot”; rather, they’ll cite the language above and tax it at 6%.

I don’t claim to know what’s an appropriate tax rate for recpot. What I do know is that there’s no special Long Beach tax for alcohol, cigarettes, high-fructose corn syrup, etc., so there’s at least some question why cannabis ought to be more of a cash cow. That is not to say a city tax is inherently unreasonable, but Long Beach might do well to listen to the L.A. Times Editorial Board: “[H]ere’s a word of caution to county, state and local leaders: Legal marijuana should not be seen as the solution to your revenue problems.”

Plus, consider the source and supporters of MA. For starters, they didn’t care enough about patient access to medpot to write into MA a lifting of the ban. As councilmember, Garcia voted for that ban (so much for “deal with and accept”), and as mayor he has proven unwilling or unable to lead Long Beach out of the weeds on this issue. For his part, Luna has continued to expend police resources on fool’s errands like trying to bust delivery services and faking medpot doctors’ notes. In 2014–’15 the LBPD served 150 search warrants on dispensaries and arrested 400 staff members, then handed out commendations for those officers’ “relentless pursuit of narcotics violators.” Together they assert that if dispensaries are re-introduced, “Long Beach will desperately need additional public safety and public health resources to keep the community safe.” These are simply scare tactics. The presence of dispensaries in 2011 did not cause a spike a crime, and there is no data supporting the notion that public health was compromised by the presence of dispensaries, no spike in pot-related ER visits or some such.

Does it seem likely to you that the people who brought you the ban and are hyperbolizing about the dangers of legalized marijuana coming back to town are also championing sensible, pot-friendly policies? The term you’re searching for is credibility gap. NO on MA.

Rae Gabelich, by far the strongest advocate for medpot during her tenure on Long Beach City Council, is a signatory on the anti-MA argument, while the pro-MM argument is co-signed by her former council colleague Tonia Reyes Uranga (also a strong medpot supporter during her tenure) and new 2nd District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce. These are people who prize personal freedom and patient access to medicine, rather than simply trying to make an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” money-grab. Without MM, the ban on dispensaries remains in place—even if Proposition 64 passes. Don’t let Long Beach get left behind. YES on MM.

A Dozen Bites of the LBC’s Music Tastes Good

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Call this a sampler platter or some remnants from the buffet. It’s not meant to be a full meal, but perhaps these 12 nibbles will impart a bit of flavor from Long Beach’s first-ever, very own, full-blown music festival, a super success showing that we’re finally old enough to dine at the big-kids’ table. Bon appétit.

1. It was trippy to be standing in locations I frequent on non-festival days and momentarily feeling unfamiliar with my surroundings. Hiding and changing visual cues can do that to you. Getting to re-experience my home turf like that would have been worth the price of admission even if the music hadn’t been so great.

2. But the music was so great (at least what I took in, which was maybe a dozen acts). My favorite discoveries: Skinny Lister and Vintage Trouble. One was Pogues-like folk with a punkish sneer, while the other was retro rock ‘n’ soul with more than a little James Brown fire, and each of their sets was a complete presentation, from the moment-by-moment expenditure of energy to the overall arc of the performance. Being a pro is not just having good music and playing it well. There’s a lot to be said for knowing how to present it.

3. Fab sound and lighting. Great stages. Always plenty of room for the audience, including as much as you needed to dance (important!). Perfect use of urban space.

4. Well, almost perfect. Do you know about the East Village Arts Park? I doubt it, because this fab little shady nook—complete with comfortable seating—is chained just about all the time. Since it sits right in the middle of Saturday’s footprint, it seems like this would have been an obvious time to open it up. If not then, when? Never, I guess, because visitors could only gaze inside. Might as well make it a Starbucks if we’re not going to use it. (Just kidding. We’ve got more than enough of those downtown.) If you reserve a hotel room with a Jacuzzi and the Jacuzzi doesn’t work, it’s not a hotel room with a Jacuzzi, you know? Amenities are only as good as their availability for use.

5. Saturday’s festival footprint (basically Atlantic Ave. to Long Beach Blvd. and 1st St. to 3rd St.) worked perfectly, including having the businesses inside open as usual. I’m sure it was a drag for businesses on the outside looking in, but….

6. I’m not a fan of MTG’s “no reentry” policy (which surely withheld customers from nearby businesses)—although it’s fair to say that this was not exactly over-enforced.

7. Did you check out the art installations? Highlight: Rumination Attuning (perhaps a.k.a. “the bell one” at Linden/Broadway), a sort of gazebo adorned with dozens of bells and gongs, above each of which was a provocative statement (“I am an adult still having ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ moments,” “I am humbled by the endless generosity of my city,””I don’t have the discipline I need to be the person I want to be,” “Being painfully honest with myself is making me happier,” “There are songs that make me weep for joy”). The idea was to ring a bell when you read a statement that resonated with you; but with so many people on so many different journeys, a host of other types of interaction were mixed in, and the flow of the way people were encountering it was always changing, with the music from the Linden Stage playing into experience.

8. It felt like there was just the right amount of police/security, and that they were just the right sort of presence. If some real shit’s happening, you want them right up in it; otherwise, they should just sit there and enjoy the music.

9. WeedMaps, an official sponsor of Music Tastes Good and a good way to help you circumnavigate the City of Long Beach’s continued criminalization of cannabis. Fuck yes. (And fortunately we’re all gonna get together and pass Proposition 64 so the landscape will be different next fall, right?)

10. “Boxed Water Is Better.” Good slogan, good packaging (that sculptured skinny box is an image we’ll all retain), and maybe it’s true that boxed water is better than plasticked water. Great. Sell it. But what’s better better is people bringing their own canteens brimming with water and refillable at water stations within the event—as opposed to what we got: nowhere to get unboxed water (except at a couple of eateries within Saturday’s footprint) and having security make people dump their water before entering. Raising a minor stink each time they tried that with me was enough to get them to let me keep it so long as they could sniff it, so not a complete fail here. But can Music Taste Good 2016 please be the last event in Long Beach where people are actively discouraged from doing the right thing environmentally? At an event like this, water is the most essential thing you can put in your body, and there is a simple way to give it to us with minimal environmental impact. Make this mandatory, automatic. It’s a reasonable cost of doing business.

11. Every time I go to a concert, I am appalled at the amount of garage left on the ground, like people think they’re doing the cleaning crew a favor by giving them extra work. At MTG there were plenty of clearly marked receptacles for refuse, recyclables, and compostables (not to mention the ones specifically for the water boxes).

12. After I got home to my downtown condo complex Sunday night, I was in the elevator with a 20-something kid in a Michigan college football jersey/hat. He was carrying a can of Red Bull and looked contentedly tired. “Did you go to the music festival this weekend?” I asked. He was confused for a moment, because he had just attended one in Las Vegas but sniffed the gist of my question. “There was one here? Where was it? Do you know what it’s called?” Music Tastes Good, I told him, making sure to enunciate. “I’ll have to check it out online,” he said. I’m guessing that if he does he’ll be getting his fest on closer to home next September.

Long Beach Leaders Still Wrong on Medpot Question

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

My break into Long Beach journalism came in 2008 when an East Village Arts District medpot dispensary I was talking to about neighborhood resistance they were encountering got raided by the DEA. I was the only one who had looked into the original story, which had just become an order of magnitude bigger. It got bigger still when the dispensary managed to retain video of the entire DEA raid, including agents smashing cameras.

That article, which ended up as a cover story for The District Weekly, was the beginning of several years of covering medpot in Long Beach, sitting through marathon city council meetings, poring over proposed ordinances, filing Public Records Act Requests, and even getting threatened by the city attorney.

Although marijuana decriminalization had always been one of my pet political issues, writing about such stuff was never my dream. I did it for so long because I’d stumbled into it, and it seemed that my “willing + able” quotient was higher than anyone else’s.

But finally I just got tired. Even during the relatively short period when Long Beach allowed dispensaries to operate, part of the story was always the same: the Long Beach Police Department had a hard-on to stop medpot, even at the expense of diverting resources away from violent crimes; and the city council was disingenuous, saying they had compassion for patients but doing everything they could to make it so only those most medicinally in need were truly inconvenienced by draconian restrictions and eventually a complete ban.

The last medpot article I wrote was in May 2015 after I attended a couple of meetings of the Medical Cannabis Task Force, which the city council set up in a transparent charade to appear to be moving forward on once again allowing dispensaries—something heavily favored by Long Beach residents, who in 2012 voted in favor of legalizing marijuana for even recreational use (something even L.A. residents didn’t do)—while merely dragging the City’s feet on the issue. As I wrote at the time, “[I]t is looking like marijuana could be legal for recreational use statewide before Long Beach is again home to a single medicinal dispensary.”

I hate to say I told you so, so I’ll just say that it’s worse. Not only does the ban remain in place, but the LBPD continues to expend its resources to save you from the marijuana menace. A recent chapter in that sad story is documented in the OC Weekly by Nick Schou, who reports on recent sting operation against a longtime medpot collective that involved faking a doctor’s recommendation. (This is a legit collective, the kind that not only requires a recommendation but actually has people on staff who can help fulfill your medical needs.)

And then just this week the LBPD patted itself on the back by handing out a Unit Citation to its Drug Investigations Section Field Team for the 400 arrests and 150 search warrants served on dispensaries in 2014–’15. In the awards ceremony program they call it “[t]heir relentless pursuit of narcotics violators,” as if they’re not talking about state-sanctioned medicine being distributed openly.

Reminder: medical marijuana has been legal in California for 20 years. “The medical-marijuana movement is here, and it’s something we have to deal with and accept,” said then-Councilmember Robert Garcia in 2009. Now mayor, in February 2015 Garcia said, “We do owe the public a resolution on this issue, with a responsible timeline.”

So how are we doing in Long Beach with dealing and accepting medpot? Do we have a legitimate resolution on the subject? Is there anything responsible about how the City is handling medpot?

Because the city council that you elected is choosing to stand against the wishes of their constituency on this issue, medpot proponents have gathered signatures to place a medpot initiative on the ballot, the passage of which would mean that dispensaries can come back to Long Beach, despite the obstructionism of city officials.

The price tag to the city for going this route? According to city clerk, every ballot initiative costs the City of Long Beach $433,000.

Full disclosure: I use cannabis, so perhaps one might argue that my ire at our councilmembers has to do with my own interests or convenience. But on a scale from 1 to 100, want to guess how difficult it is for me to acquire cannabis outside of dispensaries? If you guessed 2, you’re 1 over. The California poppy may be our state flower, but on the city level it’s cannabis. It would be everywhere even if you didn’t have numerous delivery services—unregulated, thanks to the city council’s inflexibility—to bring it to your doorstep. The only thing the City’s cannabis ban achieves is fueling the black market.

At any time the city council could have at least signaled to our police that expending their limited resources on cannabis “crimes” is wasteful. Santa Monica has done it. So has Oakland, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz. All of these California cities—and many more across the country—have official positions making marijuana matters law enforcement’s lowest priority. But not Long Beach.

A message to Long Beach police officers: take this matter into your own hands. Or rather, hands off. Turn a blind eye to all things cannabis. By enforcing anti-cannabis laws, you are today’s equivalent of the boys in blue who once upon a time arrested Black people for using Whites-only facilities. You’re on the wrong side of history, and (as your brothers and sisters in Law Enforcement Against Prohibition will tell you) you’re tarnishing and corrupting your profession. Many of you have kids. You think 20 years from now you’ll be able to tell them with pride how you protected and served by spending hundreds of hours of your career on pot busts? That list of 14 Drug Investigations officers in the award program is a roll call of shame.

A message to Long Beach city councilmembers: your compassion rhetoric is empty. As an increasing number of city councils in Southern California—now including cities in notoriously conservative Orange County—have progressed, your have gullibly and/or disingenuously confined Long Beach to the unpragmatic past. Now you are months away from costing city residents nearly half a million dollars for your unwillingness to let one of the world’s only non-toxic medicines be dispensed in a city that overwhelmingly favors it. Even though your actions have demonstrated that you don’t actually care about medpot patients, perhaps you care enough about city coffers to finally read the writing on the wall and repeal the ban before voters do it for you?

Sometimes our leaders fail us. In Long Beach, when it comes to cannabis, our city council and the command staff of our police force have failed us repeatedly, miserably, and inexcusably. It’s high time we all owned that fact as publicly and vociferously as possible.

Tom Stoppard’s DARKSIDE @ the Garage Theatre

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

REVIEW

Tom Stoppard’s Darkside, incorporating Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon

the Garage Theatre, 2015-Aug-01

***WORLD PREMIERE STAGING (a big deal in the little berg of Long Beach)***

If you didn’t know otherwise, you would never guess that the Garage Theatre’s presentation Darkside is not merely their interpretation of this Tom Stoppard masterwork, but partly their own world-premiere creation. Darkside, you see, was written as a radio play, which director Eric Hamme and company have so effectively and affectingly forged into a live production that it comes off as if it was always meant for the stage.

Emily McCoy (Maribella Magaña) has a problem. She’s at university studying a bit of philosophy, and she’s increasingly troubled by her investigations into the status of the Good, particularly as highlighted in thought experiments proffered by Prof. Baggott (Paul Knox). Is it Good, for example, to divert a runaway train full of passengers from plunging off a cliff if in doing so you kill an innocent boy playing on the tracks? It’s a consideration that transports Emily from lecture hall to a murky, mountainous landscape, where she meets up with the now-deceased boy. They are soon joined by the superhero Ethics Man—it’s Baggott behind the mask—who floats down to earth after taking his doomed plane’s sole parachute, leaving his fellow passengers (a banker and a politician) to go down with the airship. “I was a utilitarian consequentialist,” Baggott explains, “but I’ve been forced to reexamine some deeply held convictions. “[…] Ethics Man is [now] a Nietzschean egoist. […] The rules are made by whoever has the will to make them.”

We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, and for someone in search of the Good (Nietzsche wasn’t), such ratiocination doesn’t satisfy, so Emily treks ever deeper into the dark woods of her psyche, becoming her own sort of thought experiment, fantasizing how she might address the masses on the subject:

They know the world is fucked if something isn’t done. They know what has to be done. They don’t understand why nobody is really doing it. The system is locked somehow, they don’t know why. They’re looking up at me. Can Emily McCoy save the world? I explain it to them as if I’m talking to children. When I’m done [… t]hey sit there, stunned. But next day fucked-upness is on the turn, like floodwater starting to go down. Glaciers, rain forests, pollution, destruction, starvation…

“What do you say to them?” the Boy asks. “That’s the part I’m still working on,” she says. It’s intractable work, though, and it’s driving her mad.

Because Stoppard’s exploration of where to find the Good in a world without a reliable roadmap is relatively (i.e., for Stoppard) straightforward, you almost overlook its brilliance and beauty. But Hamme makes all the right moves to bring it home. One of the most powerful comes halfway through the odyssey (which is only an hour long), when Emily gets the chance to live out her fantasy—within her fantasy, at least—by addressing that mass of lost, searching humanity. From on high she holds forth passionately, mouthing words we hear as the wordless wailing of Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky”, a cry in the wilderness soaring to the heavens before melting down into the closing words of Emily’s plea:

The earth is a common. You can’t save it for yourself, but you can save it for others, and the others will save it for you. The other is us, and we are the other. We are of a kind. We are natural born to kindness, which means to act as our kind, as kin to kin, as kindred, which is to act kindly. What is the Good? It is nothing but a contest of kindness. To be unkind is against nature [… W]hen we live for trickery and gain, we turn against nature, and nature will turn against us.

As he makes his case for true humanity, Stoppard serves up the wit and repartee well familiar to fans, while making us care for Emily as a real, live individual. Baggott, too. He’s not just Ethics Man, but a soul increasingly troubled by the conundrums he’s been teaching all these years, particularly when he sees what they’re doing to his favourite pupil.

Not a little of the credit here goes to the actors. No matter the pith or moment, Magaña and Knox never speechify, encasing each word and idea in feeling flesh and blood. It is Knox as much as Stoppard who makes Baggott not simply Emily’s mentor but also a fellow sufferer; and Magaña communicates so viscerally in the play’s final scenes that the emotional substance could be grasped even if her articulations had no more literal meaning than the “Great Gig in the Sky” vocal.

All in all the acting is pitch perfect. Stoppard is so quick with substance that it’s important for a production to keep the audience hanging on every word, and the cast manages the trick throughout. The standout supporting role is Matthew Anderson as the Witch Finder of Emily’s fantasy and an asylum doctor back on this side of the rainbow. His menace as the former is palpable, a smoldering intensity you feel in your shoulders.

Anderson’s performance is one place in which Hamme’s Darkside differs sharply from the BBC Radio production (which aired in 2013). Whereas the BBC’s Witch Finder holds forth with a quick, jaunty wryness, Anderson’s pacing is so wrathfully slow that it would fall flat on the radio despite his riveting delivery, lacking as it would his commanding visual presence. Steven Frankenfield’s Boy is another point of departure, opting for youthful earnestness in lieu of the worldweary tone of the BBC’s Boy. Overplay this angle and the Boy would reduce to caricature, but Frankenfield never bends so far.

Despite the Garage Theatre’s limited budget and space, Hamme has so deftly created a visual component for Darkside that you half-expect that Stoppard’s script must have come with instructions, To be opened in case of staging emergency or some such. For example, when the Banker (Jeffrey Kieviet) and Politician (Craig Johnson) arrive on the scene (“everyone here [i]s a thought experiment”), Kieviet and Johnson move with perfect synchrony as they hold forth, embodying the insidious collusion intimated by their words. Another fine Hamme interpolation comes near the play’s end, when Emily and the Boy waltz to “Us and Them”, a touching moment in its own right and an evocation of Stoppard’s Arcadia apropos of Stoppard’s own Darkside evocations (The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Chinatown) of our shared cultural milieu.

It is only because the Garage Theatre frames Darkside so finely that its minor imperfections show up on radar at all. Chief among them is relying upon the audience to suspend disbelief during a couple of scene changes requiring a moveable platform to be wheeled into position. Because Stoppard’s script flows from one scene to the next without a single break (the music of The Dark Side of the Moon connects many of the dots), ideally nothing visual would impede the aesthetic flow. But there’s simply nowhere to hide in the intimacy of the Garage. You can’t argue with any of Hamme’s blocking, though. Plus, the combination of music (raised to the perfect volume when it stands alone aurally), visual projections along three walls, and the always strong, occasionally spectacular lighting minimize the intrusions.

Elsewhere, Hamme and company have covered all the bases. The costuming is simple yet meticulous (Anderson’s Witch Finder outfit is immaculate), and the relatively few props in evidence, such as the many torn pages that litter the sandpit of a stage, are used by the actors to great effect.

While discussing the Garage Theatre’s challenges in their first-ever staging Darkside, Stoppard opined that every scene would difficult to stage, when not impossible. Nonetheless, the Garage has built upon Stoppard’s script an edifice wherein the playwright’s moving meditation on ethical civilization and its discontents comes into clearest view. Perhaps difficult or seemingly impossible tasks—such as finding a common locus for the Good—are not always as unobtainable as they seem.

Tom Stoppard’s Darkside, incorporating Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon • THE GARAGE THEATRE (251 E. 7th St., Long Beach 90813) • 8PM THURS–SAT, JULY 31–AUG 15, AUG 27–SEPT 19 • $15–$25 • TICKETS, INFO: thegaragetheatre.org

(Seating is VERY limited, so you best buy your tix in advance.)