Hooray for Hollywood!

imagesWhile we are on the subject of vacuity, I have a confession to make… I live in California.  Northern California, mind you.  It’s true, we have our fair share of stereotypical caricatures: we have our puer aeterni, our woolen-socked-Birkenstock-wearin’-corduroy-skirted-grizzled-self-righteous-activist-types that are just looking for something to be pissed about, ever-do-wells and ne’er do wells, the very rich, the very poor, the radical back-yard gardeners doing really radical things like hanging out their laundry, the I-am-the-cosmos-vegetarian-organic-non-gluten-and-no-dairy-types (of which I happen to be one, except I like steak… a lot … and bacon).  Though abundant, these elements are, for the most part, relatively benign.  What we lack up here, thank heavens, is that particular brand of soul-sucking danger found in … dare I summon the name … Hollywood…

Here’s a bit of unnecessary biography:  When I was just a wee lad, why, just a mere 24 years old (wide-eyed, with a Minolta SLR strapped around my spindly little neck, a dog-eared copy of Alan Watts tucked under my arm, and a composition book filled with groundbreaking poetry and short stories), I made the decision (actually I think it was the Little Mr. Mister that made the decision) to move to sunny California with my, then, girlfriend.  Then Girlfriend was an “actress”.  (I would like you to notice that I have used the same font for actress as I did for Hollywood. I did that for a reason. I have also put it in bunny ears, because Then Girlfriend had about as much talent as a rabbit. It was actually embarrassing.  I felt embarrassed for her.  I guess I had to do that because she would not do it for herself.  Which would have benefitted everyone. I also believed that I was in love. I realized later that I was mistaken. ) Rather than relate the whole sorry-ass tale, I’m going to be really creative and relate it in scenes.  Then Girlfriend will hereafter be referred to as TG – do not mistake this for the proto-industrial band Throbbing Gristle.

Scene 1: TG, TG’s dog, and I drive out to California from Missouri.  (My cat would be flown out later, much to his chagrin. I can still picture his face as he travelled down the luggage ramp, peering wild-eyed through the grid of his cat-carrier.  He had that look that only cats can muster: the I’m-going-to-kill-you-in-your-sleep look.)

Scene 2: TG flies to Atlanta to film the cinematic masterpiece Sleepaway Camp Part Deux: The Unhappy Campers.  Now a YouTube classic.

Scene 3:  Your hero (me, hereafter YH) changes his license plates because he gets tired of people yelling things like, “Go back to the cornfield, farmer-boy!” at him as he drives down La Cienega Blvd.

Scene 4: TG comes home, drops off rent check with landlord and never comes back.  LL and TG have hit it off… this will end in minor disaster a mere two months later.  LL moves back to the East Coast where he can be safe from the clutches of TG.

Scene 5: YH has a close shave with a con artist posing as a screenwriter. He needed a co-signer for his movie loan.  Seemed legit… His penname was Christian Anderson.

Scene 6: YH goes to art school, so he can learn to give up art.

Scene 7: YH gets job as “mail-boy” in advertising firm.  Hits rock-bottom and escapes from L.A. to San Francisco!  (I never really lived in SF, but it sounded better than Emeryville.)

Intermission:  about 20 years go by where a whole lotta stuff goes down.

Scene 8: YH is all growed up.  He gets married and becomes an I-am-the-cosmos-vegetarian-organic-non-gluten-and-no-dairy-type who eats meat.

All of which leads me to this really cool band.  I’m going to give you a few hints, see if you can figure out who it is:

  • They are from L.A.
  • They have been around since the late ‘60’s.
  • Their first band name was Halfnelson and was produced by Todd Rundgren.
  • They have been labeled: glam rock, power pop, electronic dance music, and chamber pop.
  • They have 23 albums to their credit as of this writing.
  • They are brothers.
  • One of them has a little mustachio.
  • They are freaking brilliant
  • Did I mention that they are brilliant?

Have you guessed yet?  Of course you did!  Here’s a picture of them:


Though now three years old (not me, the album), I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman by Sparks. Why did I weave that gripping tale above?  Was it just to talk about me? So that you might offer me a job?  Oh no, dear reader. It was a ploy, a plot as it were, to set the stage, provide the proper atmosphere.   Now, don’t get me wrong, LA is not all plastic boobies, hip-pocket screenplays, seedy directors, and smiles-without-the-eyes.  There are whole bunches of fine, fine human beings down there – genuinely talented, kind, and friendly human beings.  To be clear, that is not what is conveyed on this masterful Sparks album.

The story goes like this:  Ingmar Bergman is nominated for a big film prize in native Sweden.  After all the hubbub he decides to go to an American film, which he usually despises, but sits through it anyway.  When he walks out of the theater he is no longer in his European home, but in Hollywood. Ron Mael (Sparks’ musical composer, virtuoso keyboardist, and the brother with the little mustachio) summons musically the very soul of soullessness, the ether of the Hollywood ethos, all of the characteristics that make Hollywood so attractive and so utterly horrifying.  Bergman finds himself a captive in a land of starlets, sycophants, salubrious aseasonality (I know, it’s not a word, but it should be), and insincere salutations.  It is a Kafkaesque tale of surreal characters, made more surreal by the uncanny accuracy of the dialogue.  Everyone is pleasant but menacing, humble but self-righteous, and oh so incredibly manipulative.  (There is a chorus of hahaha’s in The Studio Commissary that is positively chilling.) Brother Ron Mael sings as The Studio Chief:

Here he is now

Small talk at first

Here he is now

Speak slow at first

Here he is now

Joke that he needs a tan


Here he is now

Watch what is said

Here he is now

He is well read

Here he is now

Praise both the work and the man


Here he is now

We’ll be polite

Here he is now

Firm but polite

Here he is now

Just feel things out and go from there

Would you not agree that this is about as slimy as slimy gets? The seduction reaches fever pitch but Bergman eventually escapes Hollywood’s evil clutches and appears once again on his home shores where his depth and intelligence are appreciated for what they offer the soul rather than someone’s wallet.

I’m going to be honest here:  I really like Sparks a lot.  They are one of those bands that seem to get better with age. (“Lil Beethoven” was a friggin’ masterpiece!)  So am I doing precisely what I so adamantly decried above – manipulating you to go spend your hard earned money on yet another cd? Am I seducing you?  Will you escape from this article without a hint of curiosity?

I was having a discussion with my family about Non-Violent Communication last night and I came to the frightening conclusion that no matter how we say anything, no matter how pure our motives, even if we don’t say anything at all… we are manipulating the shit out of everybody!  Admit it, you want the world to do shit your way.  Am I right?  You’d be really happy if everybody ate the way you ate, listened to the music you listen to, exuded odors that were pleasant to your little schnoz, and just generally behaved themselves.  So am I manipulating you?  Of course I am! I even manipulate my dogs!  So let’s just be clear:

Go listen to Sparks.  That’s it.  You don’t even need to go fishing around on Amazon yet.  Just pull ‘em up on YouTube or something.  Give ‘em a listen.  If you don’t like it, well, I really don’t know what to say … Sorry? … But I think, if you let them in, you’ll be hooked.  But don’t do it just because I said so, do it because you want to.  That’s right, you l-o-v-e listening to new music.  Gentle.  Gentle. Everything’s all right.  Because you love Sparks too.  (smiley face)