Hooray for Hollywood

There’s something mysteriously charming about encountering a group of seniors protesting on behalf of Jesus and a man standing at the bus stop sporting a skeleton mask, all on the same block. Casually sporting a skeleton mask, I should say, as though it was as common an accessory as a winter scarf.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Hollywood since moving to LA, but now that I work in the epicenter of TMZ bus tours and feral looking Marvel characters roaming Hollywood Boulevard, there’s way more nuance to this storied city than I ever realized. The kind of stuff that gets lost in a blur of neon as you zoom by in your Uber car or hurry out of a theater.

I’m always fascinated by the stars people choose to photograph on the Walk of Fame. Like, why is Sigourney Weaver meaningful to you? What is it about Chuck Norris that would compel a grown man to lay down on one of the dirtiest streets in LA (America, maybe) to pose alongside a concrete star? (I know, Chuck Norris could lay down on broken glass and not receive a scratch, or whatever). I can’t remember the first star I photographed when coming to LA as a tourist, but I kind of like the stars located within a block of my new office.

The late Hugh Hefner, activist, feminist, American icon and editor of the most famous literary men’s lifestyle magazine in the world is there. Ironically (for lack of a better word) the late great Tom Petty is also immortalized on the famous boulevard within the same block. I’m quite certain I’ve photographed (read, Instagrammed) both of those stars in the past and sadly again in the past few weeks following both of their passing’s.

The characters I’ve encountered this week while passing Petty’s star in particular have been, as you could imagine, colorful. The hippie guy meditating alongside the piles of candles, flowers and empty booze bottles who awoke from his trance to pet my dog. The Native American fellow who had a little speaker setup playing Wildflowers tonight as he laid feathers down on the makeshift shrine.

There’s still evidence of old Hollywood too, if you really look for it. Not necessarily traces representative of the glamorous Golden Age, but evidence of the past. Like the abandoned Hollywood Center Motel (said to be one of Los Angeles’ most haunted hotels) on Sunset. A few beats down you encounter a run-down home with a neon sign that reads “Family Foot Care” complete with a squawking caged bird and ominous man out front. A charming old shop that specializes in classic violins. The old LA Weekly offices. History.

From where I sit in my modern, open-concept office, I have an unobstructed view of the Hollywood sign. It’s hard not to find the romance in that. The folks hawking tours of celebrity homes and the like don’t harass me anymore when I walk down Hollywood Boulevard. I guess that means I’ve graduated to Angeleno status.

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Bowie Tribute on Hollywood Boulevard

I can’t say I’m the biggest Bowie fan who ever lived. I love his music, his lyrics, how he transcended popular culture and made it okay ­– cool, even – to be whoever you want to be. But for me, what made him so special and virtually untouchable, was the level of influence he had on so many prolific pop stars and rock ‘n’ rollers who came after him. Which makes his contribution to music so far reaching he could almost touch Mars.

From Boy George and Madonna to Marilyn Manson and Arcade Fire, the diversity among the artists who cite Bowie as an inspiration speaks volumes for his body of work; a catalogue of timeless music that exists without boundaries or limits.

When Bowie first hit the scene, rock ‘n’ roll was a macho, predominantly male affair. Enter Ziggy Stardust, who dazzled the world while blurring gender lines and leaving a trail of glitter in his wake. He made it acceptable for male artists to explore their art form outside the confines of masculinity. My favorite frontman of all time, the late Scott Weiland, clearly emulated Bowie on stage. From his outlandish costumes and stage antics right down to his smudgy eyeliner.

When news of Bowie’s death hit, I did what just about everyone on the planet did. I binged on his music all day and looked for a way to pay tribute. Which, in Los Angeles, meant heading to Hollywood to light a candle and pour one out for our fallen starman. His star on the Walk of Fame brought mourners in droves, huddled in a circle singing and crying, obstructing the manic foot traffic of Hollywood Boulevard. I was stopped by a KTLA reporter and ended up on the evening news, inarticulately trying to paraphrase some of the sentiment I saw written in poems and letters across the makeshift shrine.

Afterwards, I ventured to Amoeba Music to sign a mural of messages from fans, buy a vintage concert shirt and eavesdrop on all the stories swirling around me. Favorite Bowie moments shared among strangers.

More than a musician, performance artist, otherworldly androgynous alien being or whatever else he may have meant to his fans, he was a symbol of inclusiveness just as much as he represented rebellion. Which, I think, is why we’ll always cherish him.

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