Pilgrimage: Bruce Lee’s China Town Statue

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Saturday, August 3 – Bruce Lee’s statue was unveiled sometime in mid-June to much fanfare. Plenty of council members in the China Town area played up the fact that the statue was one of several in the world. But talk of a possible removal due to the statue not being cemented to the ground had me worried that I would miss the opportunity to pose next to a Bruce Lee statue.

I made my way to the Gold Line and it was a hot August day, warm enough for this chicken to run to some shade and chill out next to some agave plants. We had a moment. We exchanged glances.

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“Hot enough for you,” she said.

“Oh you bet,” I said to the chicken.

On the Gold Line the children were half dressed in lingerie, in tank tops and cargo shorts, chucks and furry boots. There was a storm trooper who looked out of place in this gathering of tribal tattoos, Native American head gears and neon body paint. The trooper nodded to me and I asked for a picture and he said, “Should I put on the bucket?”

“If you want to put on your bucket,” I said, not knowing what he meant by bucket.

The trooper then put on his helmet and held onto the railing as his peripheral vision was limited, and probably why all the storm troopers seem to miss their target in the movies.

trooperI found my friend at the front car and we tried to ignore all of the naked children. When the Gold Line crossed the L.A. River and dipped low by the Historic State Park there the throngs of children and adults bounced on their feet at the HARD Summer Festival. I say children, but HARD festival is strictly an 18 and over event.

At the China Town stop it was like everyone decided to run away and join the circus on the same day. The wild rumpus had just begun. From up on high we looked down on the HARD festival, throngs of bodies and bikini strings writhing in a mass of flesh.

Some were in costumes, others in pajamas, underwear or covered with stickers – all they had in common was the mindset that their eternal summer would never end. This was Saturday, the first day in a weekend event with the likes of Crystal Castles, Flosstradamus, Bassnectar, Dog Blood, Duck Sauce and Flying Lotus.

This served as a great backdrop to the pilgrimage to Bruce, really played up the whole mystery of an otherwise mundane train ride to China Town. Another friend was planning to drive on into the area to meet us, but he hadn’t planned on the rave scene.

“I’m on my way over,” my friend said on the phone.

“But the HARD kids are all here. You might not find parking.”

“They don’t scare me,” my friend said.

And indeed they didn’t scare us. In fact none of the HARD fans were there to say hello to the Bruce statue and only a handful of people posed during the hour that we were there. China Town has a certain bright allure – shop fronts are painted gaudy pastels, while other forms of architecture play up the dichotomy of east meets west. What the Bruce Lee statue offers is a stoic representation of a man, bronzed, and it’s almost a bit too modest for the area.

IMG_0025The estimated cost to cement Bruce into the ground is somewhere in the neighborhood of $125,000.

In the meantime he quietly stands out front by the Grand Star, watching over a parking lot and the foot traffic that mills about in the shops where they sell Homies that used to be a quarter when I was a child.

We get back onto the Gold Line and ascended over the rave. From afar I could see them burning out all possible forms of polite nerves, so from here on out nothing will ever be enough and they’ll constantly be in search of some new beat to tickle their centers. It’s nice to see people passionate about a cause.

*UPDATE: There was a death at HARD Festival. Possibly drug related.

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Bunnies and Kitties at MorYork Gallery

Bunnies and Kitties at MorYork Gallery
Bunnies and Kitties at MorYork Gallery

August 2, 2013 – It was an intimate set, about 50 people quietly sat for Bunnies and Kitties, the stage name of guitarist Rafael Bustamante. He charmed his way through an amazing acoustic performance, taking questions and explaining why he wrote a song about the teen who mugged his friend.

“I wanted to console my friend, so I wrote this and hopefully it makes sense,” said Bustamante who launched into a lovely song where he rhymed and darted around the subject of friends getting mugged.

Bustamante also explained that Friday night’s show was his last one in his twenties, as the next day would be his birthday.

When someone in the audience asked what was his favorite time during his twenties Bustamante pointed to the floor, “This is it.”

Also in attendance was Bustamante’s family, including his grandfather who shouted between songs, ‘¡es mi nieto!’

Along with an acapella crew Bustamante was accompanied by cello, upright bass and a melodica for a Spanish bolero.

MorYork Gallery reminds of a shipwrecked galleon spilling its treasure, a collection of Lovecraftian lore and driftwood relics. It’s a sensory overload and comforting at the same time, being surrounded by so many details and figures. Bunnies and Kitties seemed to make it all drift away, filled the sails and so on and so forth.

Saving The L.A. Fort

fort1Skid Row. July 27, 2013 – Outside of The L.A. Fort, where cig smoke, wet cardboard and gasoline aromas linger and a tiny dog barks at passing shopping carts. Today the L.A. Fort is hosting a letter writing campaign to help persuade policy makers to streamline the permitting process needed to legally run a creative space.

Inside people are charged with the DIY spirit that’s toted as the saving grace in this overlap of arts and politics, a scene that’s poised to overtake the near future of Los Angeles or at least that’s what the organizers here are betting on.

“We only have one city,” says Cameron Rath, co-founder of the Fort, standing on stage before a small crowd. “This is it,” he adds with a wild arm gesture to the city outside the walls at the Fort. Not quite a music venue, not quite a gallery, but something new altogether.

Continue reading Saving The L.A. Fort

The L.A. Fort officially opened in the Autumn of 2012, and hosted a number of concerts and workshops while the building underwent renovations at the hands of volunteers. It was a strictly volunteer atmosphere, with a membership for those who wanted to help mold the venue – pay a monthly fee, and “get out what you put in,” says Rath, emphasizing the use of the space as not only a venue, but also a workshop or artist’s loft or civic center. The possibilities are endless according to Rath.

As a music venue the L.A. Fort is on a hiatus as the LAPD have put a hold on all activities relating to concerts due to a lack of proper permits and strict guidelines that are placed on commercial entities.

But that’s not what the Fort identifies itself as. Or at least not what it wants to become. The city still doesn’t buy it.

Hence the letter writing campaign that will hopefully jumpstart a conversation with city officials and put together a definitive line in the sand on where the L.A. Fort stands as a creative space and what changes the DIY community would like to see with the permit process.

So, on the day of the letter writing campaign I’m instantly reminded of summer school.

fort7Inside Richard A. sits on a dusty couch drafting his letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti. He’s jovial, says that he’s moved whenever he travels through Skid Row. Richard goes on to say how much he loves Skid Row holding his hand to his heart, remarking that all the people in the city are not as beautiful as the ones here on the streets.

Others are filtering in the once vacant meat packing warehouse, now dolled up with a certain charm not unlike a children’s playhouse or a boutique that’s not sure what to stock yet. There are familiar faces everywhere. If I do one thing when I go to concerts in this city it’s people watch and now most of those people are here and I’m ecstatic, but also a bit flummoxed, because now they’re faces with names and personalities.

It gets even weirder as everyone at the Fort acts like they’re part of the same community and maybe I’m just a bit cynical when people start asking me questions, because usually I’m the one who is inquiring about this or that. Kenzo, who I saw at a show the previous night, tells me that he’s putting together an online magazine and maybe we can exchange information only he doesn’t give me his info and I jot down my email address on scratch paper.

The second floor of the Fort is completely a mess and Zach, who is apparently my neighbor by two streets over, is standing at a window and the rest of the Downtown skyline is looking back. He’s a recent transplant from the east coast and appreciates/loves the DIY scene in Los Angeles.

Jim from The Smell, the grandfather space of DIY locations in Los Angeles, is here. Grant C. from Echo Curio (RIP) is here and we’re all a bit saddened, because it was a great place with wonderful acts and horrible luck to get shut down by the LAPD, but that’s what happens when there’s a BYOB policy and all the kids just seemed to mill about on the street with their open containers. The founder of Jaberjaw Cafe (RIP), Michelle Carr speaks of a different Los Angeles in the 1980s when the vice squad were concerned with more important issues like race riots. But now in 2013 the people at the Fort are looking at a much more focused and educated law enforcement, which is detailed in an LA Weekly article.

fort6In all there are maybe forty people in attendance and it’s all very exciting, baby steps really, the first meeting in many meetings people say. It reminds of school because I’m handwriting a letter to my mayor to fix something. I remember writing a letter to my governor in elementary school and I’m doing it again in 2013 at 27 and only now my penmanship is much sloppier.

There’s Shane in the crowd of people at the Fort who asks me if I’m into the underground scene and I say that I am, but he starts naming off venues and locations that I’ve never heard of and it all goes over my head. “Just find me on Facebook, join my group and you’ll see,” he says as a matter of fact.

Carmen is wearing a red hat, and she and I met at a book store during a zine making workshop and that sounds so incredibly bougie, but it’s OK, because now we’re here at the Fort writing out letters to our mayor.

There’s an incense burning and dozens of handmade zines strung up on string. The group L.A. Zine Fest is in attendance and Rhea T. is encouraging people on the stage to get creative with their letters, but not too creative. There are form letters, but everyone is writing out their own words.

There’s a nameless kitten that Harmony found in the street and a dog named Valerie Solanas, who shot Andy Warhol and the dog’s named that because her eyes are a brilliant shade of auburn that look mad. Champoy is holding her leash, but Valerie Solanas, the dog not the woman who shot Warhol, seems so excited to be surrounded by people.

We’re writing letters in a warehouse off of Skid Row and it hits me at about an hour into the whole ordeal how crazy this sounds, how radically unpopular I would appear to the conservatives at my local city council meeting.

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Cameron Rath, July 2013

Rath, co-founder of the Fort, is shirtless when I arrive, surrounded by women who are printing out letters. He’s ironing his shirt and he looks frantic, bewildered, excited. When he eventually speaks on stage he goes on about wanting to place the people in this community into a different mindset – not one where the established powers are evil, but where we’re all part of the same system. When he speaks about changing policy for creative spaces like The L.A. Fort he speaks in terms about changing our city and mentions changing the dialogue on what people can do.

“Don’t think of what they should do for us, but what we should be doing for all of us,” Rath says.

I met Rath a week prior at an old Victorian house in Lincoln Heights, another creative space where artists live, trying to change permit policies from antiquated cabaret licenses to something a bit more modern.

I wrote the article, but Rath’s quotes were cut out, because Skid Row is out there, so far away from most people’s everyday mindset. Life went on as it does. But I had to see this Fort and maybe write out these words to get an idea of where these movements start, where they get to gestate and mature.

It’s early on in their fight, just loops of words on paper. A preemptive course of action, not the last course of action that usually occurs when the LAPD or the city focus on a community center like this. It’s all very 1980’s ‘save the center with a dance contest’ vibe, only now the kids who would be breakdancing are replaced with organized individuals with civic engagement on their minds.

Rath champions the ‘Do it Yourself’ ideology, but now he’s saying DIT ‘Do it Together’ and not one person rolls their eyes when he says this and that’s saying something.