Dancing About Architecture

L.A. vs. Austin -- Tinseltown wins.

Holly Holy: Diamond Smugglers in Tinseltown
Holly Holy: Diamond Smugglers in Tinseltown (Photo By Jan Sanders)

A Tale of Two Cities

In light of the recent controversy over Austin being in danger of turning into L.A. due to the threat of every club in town following Maggie Mae's (nonexistent) lead and instituting a "pay to play" policy, I decided the time was ripe for an in-depth investigation of the matter. Therefore, I flew out to Hollywood last weekend and hung out at a multimillionaire's mansion, eating free sushi by the fistful and rubbing elbows with the type of person who keeps a spare limo on call in case the first one that comes is the wrong color. Former Austinite, Hey Zeus bass player, and current TV producer (Metropolis, The Education of Max Bickford, Cupid) Rob Thomas has a zillion-decker mansion across the street from Bernie Taupin's old place at the top of Sunset Plaza, and his Halloween party featuring Austin's very own Diamond Smugglers was scheduled for last Saturday, so it seemed like a decent place to hang out and make my observations. Like the Smugglers, I decided to arrive a day early. Unlike the Smugglers, my motive had nothing to do with spying on a rival Neil Diamond cover band called Superdiamond, who were playing the House of Blues on Friday night, but how serendipitous it was that I ended up doing so with them!

Y'see, I haven't seen the sights of Los Angeles in roughly a decade, and I was seeking examples of the differences between L.A. and Austin, and everything at the HoB seemed to validate what people say about the Hollywood crowd -- everyone seemed fake and "plastic" (literally so in the case of numerous females), most of them appearing more interested in being seen than seeing, and the drinks were "excuse me did I hear you correctly" expensive. The Superdiamonds epitomized the supposed "L.A. style" with their smoke machines, Guns 'N' Roses leanings, and a sense of humor right up there with the later Saved by the Bell episodes. More interestingly, everywhere I went and everyone I met aside from the HoB experience turned out to be personable, pleasant, and well, damn near Texan! A walk down Sunset Boulevard immediately made me nostalgic; all the clubs I'd had such a wonderful time at on my previous trip awaited me, looking just like they had when I'd left! Same with many of the funky mom-and-pop stores and late-night eateries; it almost seemed as though the same people were still walking the streets, though I knew that in reality most of those I'd seen "cruising" during my previous journey had long since graduated from UCLA, grown up, and died by now.

Seriously, though, imagine if it was the other way around -- a Callie nostalgic for his one magical visit to Austin a decade before. I'd have been staring in sad disbelief at a Sixth Street or a Drag where damn near every single club and bar I'd spent a special moment at had vanished. Ironically, it was there on Don Henley's famous L.A. street that I truly understood what has happened to Austin, realized the inner damage done to each of us by the city's wanton swatting down of every culturally relevant set of walls and floors that has meant something to us in our young lifetimes.

It was not a pleasant moment. Compared to Austin 2001, Sunset Blvd. is "funky." Sights included a bunch of old (like in their 70s old) people hanging out with the all-in-black crowd in front of both the Viper Room and the Whisky a Go-Go, and junior iconoclast (and one-time Austin radio wannabe) Moon Unit Zappa signing copies of her new novel in a nifty Boho bookstore. Me and my guitarist/travelling companion Larry Goode stomped unaware into this latter scene talking loudly, and no one shushed us or gave us the eye, much less the finger. Parking was far easier and closer than in Austin, and traffic seemed positively Amish compared to Waterloo pre-sunset. I didn't check out the rent situation, but how much worse than Austin's could it really be?

Saturday, for its part, couldn't have been a nicer day. Freshly awakened and filthy, I stumbled down the endless staircases and steep driveway to get a clean shirt out of the rental car, encountering a small group of teenagers staring up the opposite fork of the driveway. "Excuse me," one politely inquired, "but is that really Britney Spears' house?" Noting Ms. Spears' burly security guard taking an authoritarian position just beyond the gate, I replied nonchalantly, "That's what they tell me. We don't go over there." It struck me then that aside from those hired to patrol inside the gates of whoever chose to pay for such services, there was no evidence of any attempt to keep the "wrong element" away from the 'hood. Unlike West Lake Hills, for instance, there were no police driving around pulling people over for driving cars that don't look like they belong there.

The party, predictably, was a smash, with seemingly as many Texans as Californicators in attendance, and there was little evidence of any aggressive "networking" going on. Sure, there was a Just Shoot Me writers' assistant there who was something of a snide bastard, but for that matter, one of the Diamond Smugglers is an asshole, so let's not judge an entire state by the actions of one David Spade underling.

Though invited by the Smugglers, the Tenacious D guys couldn't attend, though Jack Black's Saving Silverman cohort Amanda Peet made an appearance, as did Danny Masterson (That 70s Show, Face Off), Seth Rogan (Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared), Eric Balfour (Six Feet Under, What Women Want, Can't Hardly Wait), Sarah Paulson (The Other Sister, American Gothic). For my part, I called up Harvey Sid Fisher (whose new anti-smoking ditty "Kick That Butt" has been posted at www.harveysidfisher.com and ready for National Smokeout Day on November 15) and invited him to the fiesta. In keeping with the unofficial costume theme of movie trivia, he arrived dressed as the character he played in Lethal Weapon 3 -- Harvey Sid Fisher! The Smugglers were given one hour of playing time and no encores, due no doubt to the expected reaction of partygoers to a live band (leaving the room and complaining about the noise), but were overwhelmingly well received. The room stayed packed and swinging until the last note left the P.A. The party went on 'til dawn and no neighbors complained, no cops came, no fights broke out, and only one irreplaceable work of art was smashed to pieces. A total success, leaving me once again to sigh and wonder how we could've sunk so far as to leave me reminiscing for the old days -- when Austin was so much more like L.A.!

Paging Ms. Ann Thracks ...

With this week's vague announcements by the government concerning suspected terrorist activities in the near future, it's no surprise that an incident has already occurred locally involving suspected anthrax threats. Monday night, after Lord Douglas Phillips' set at Emo's, the club experienced a full-blown anthrax scare midway through the headlining set by the Butchies, with police storming in and quickly evacuating the club. A suspicious package filled with an equally suspicious substance found outside the club on the Red River side turned out to be neither anthrax nor an explosive device, of course, and some audience members wondered aloud if the incident might have been related to the protesters passing out fliers in the same location.

The group of young women in question were protesting statements issued by the Butchies' record label, Mr. Lady, regarding the band's decision to play the Michigan Women's Festival -- long a source of controversy in the lesbian community for its admission policies toward transsexuals, who are barred from the fest. In fact, however, Lord Douglas Phillips drummer Terri Lord admits sheepishly that she and bandmate Gretchen Phillips were the unwitting culprits. "I had some 'shakers' in the van," she explains, "and when we unloaded for the show, we decided to leave them on the sidewalk for the protesters."

In retrospect, Lord says that the homemade maracas, which were ironically left over from an anti-war march last week, consisted of two cups taped together with dirt and gravel inside and were definitely very suspicious looking. On the positive side, she adds, "it's good to know the police are so alert!" True, true.

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