Just before Halloween, we embarked upon our major holiday of 2011 - our first visit to Los Angeles and to Las Vegas. It meant we were able to celebrate America’s Halloween and the latino Dia De Los Muertos while we were there. I created a chronological playlist of our experiences.
Blue Moon - The Marcels - it being just before All Hallows Eve when we travelled, our flight had decided to adopt a Halloween theme to many of their film, radio and television choices that were available. This meant I was able to doze off to a theatrical adaptation of M.R.James’s stories on the radio before watching John Landis’ Comedy/Horror classic, An American Werewolf in London… on a tiny, tiny screen. If you’ve never seen the film, the soundtrack consists of a number of songs that reference moons. This is the song that accompanies the closing credits.
Party in the USA - Miley Cyrus - for little reason other than it’s a great lick and the opening lines mention jetting into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). And something about wearing a cardigan.
Sweet Dreams my LA Ex - Rachel Stevens - even more tenuous, in this case the title subtly suggests LAX. That’s about it. I don’t even like the song that much.
Abracadabra - Steve Miller Band - whilst in Los Angeles we stayed at a place called the Magic Castle. It’s a combination of a hotel, and next door, an exclusive magic club. One can only visit the Magic Club if you are a) a member; b) the guest of a member; c) Staying at the Magic Castle hotel. The club has all sorts of small rooms of different themes, magic antiques, secret passages, paraphernalia. We planned to visit for dinner at the weekend, but when the weekend arrived (as the club was hosting an event for Halloween that they ironically named “Inferno”), there was a fire at the Magic Castle that required the attention of several fire crews to resolve. The club was closed down for the foreseeable near future as a result.
Walk - Foo Fighters - American radio is radically different from the UK, where Radio 1 sets out the sort of music that radio stations will play; sets the tone, as it were - and most music nowadays is out of the UK grime, rap or dustup scene. In the States, at least for the stations we listened to, radio is still settled firmly in guitar rock land. As a result we heard this track every day, sometimes several times a day. I like the Foo Fighters, on the whole, but one can have too much of anything.
These Dreams - Heart - this stone cold CLASSIC was playing on one of the rock classics stations as we headed away from L.A. to San Diego for the day to meet up with an old friend from the Internet.
Afternoon Delight - Starland Vocal Band - when in San Diego, thoughts inevitably and happily turn to Anchorman (stay classy), and the stand-out a cappella scene within.
Bad Bad Leroy Brown - Jim Croce - Croce lived in San Diego for a time, I believe, but regardless of the veracity of that rash statement just then his widow definitely lives there and runs a bar/restaurant using his name. We stopped there awhile so our friend could show us some of his artwork on his iPad.
Saved By The Bell - TV Theme - my wife Liz had already been considering buying an iPad during our stay in the States. Apple goods are much cheaper to buy overseas than in the UK, even moreso if you’re lucky enough to do so in a state without Sales Tax (Delaware, say, or Oregon). I dare say our friend showing off his paintings through his iPad made her mind up. So soon after our return from San Diego - it may have been the next day - we headed off to the nearest Apple Store, which happened to be at a mall known as “The Grove”. We didn’t know this when we were planning our shopping excursion, but The Grove is also the location of a daily entertainment TV Show that goes out on the E! network. It’s called “Extra! At The Grove”, and it’s fronted by Saved By The Bell alumni Mario Lopez (nowadays perhaps best known for being the host of America’s Best Dance Crew which goes out on MTV in the UK and the US). We managed to stumble upon him filming that day.
Looking for Freedom - David Hasselhoff - and one of his guests for the day was David Hasselhoff. We only discovered this when we attempted to board a streetcar/tram which was idling on one end of the outdoor section of the Mall. As we boarded we were told that the car would not be leaving for another ten minutes, as it was waiting for the arrival of David Hasselhoff, “From Knight Rider”. The tram was to be his method of entrance on the TV show. So we sat, and waited, and in time Hasselhoff did indeed appear, wearing a train conductor’s hat. We’d sat downstairs, assuming that the Hoff would be upstairs on the open-top tram, but apart from a momentary visit upstairs, he stayed downstairs for the duration, standing right in front of us, in fact. The tram set off on its journey and The Hoff played tour guide. When we were done with our journey, he sang along with a version of “Looking for Freedom” piped out of some hidden speakers, put the conductor’s hat on my head, and disappeared. We stumbled off the tram in a state of disarray and uncertainty, wondering indeed whether the whole encounter had taken place in our heads. But it hadn’t. We have photos.
Makin’ Whoopie - Dinah Washington - at Halloween, we booked to go and see the Los Angeles date of the Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer tour, at the Wilshire Ebell. Lots of people were in costume as one might have expected, given the date. They started with a version of “Makin’ Whoopie” as a duet.
The Problem With Saints - 8in8 - the only track from the experimental one day band (made up of Amanda Palmer, Ben Folds and others) to be sung by Neil Gaiman (who wrote all the lyrics to each of the songs). Neil performed this at the Ebell.
Science Fiction Double Feature - Richard O’Brien - Gaiman and Palmer were late to the stage at the Wilshire. This song is why. They were busy recording an appearance on the Craig Ferguson Late Late Show to go out later that night. On the show, Amanda Palmer, Stephen Merritt and Moby (!) performed a cover of Science Fiction Double Feature, from the Rocky Horror Show, featuring Neil Gaiman in the background on an occasional child’s toy piano. Amanda performed the song at the Ebell later that night for us.
Woodstock - Joni Mitchell - one of the greatest things we did while in LA was to visit the Griffiths Observatory, high up in the Hollywood Hills. While there we bought tickets for the planetarium there, to see a film about the wonders of the universe and the history of those who study it. It was the first time I had been to a planetarium and a great experience. The show closed with an observation from the narrator that we are all made of stardust and that our fascination with the universe and exploration thereof was about going home. This song seemed to fit.
Eyes Without A Face - Billy Idol - Idol based this song on a french horror film of the same name (well, the English translation is), which has elements of Frankenstein in it and is an early example of the Mad Scientist in horror. In fact, the French name of the film is also in the lyrics and sung as background vocals in the chorus. We were lucky enough to be staying in Hollywood while the AFI (American Film Institute) were holding their annual film festival in town. We looked into it and it turned out that all the film showings (taking place at a number of historically important cinemas around town) were free - you just had to apply in person for tickets. We chose a few films that we quite wanted to see, and Eyes Without A Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage, to give it its proper name) was one of them. The film had been chosen specifically for the festival by the guest director of the festival this year, Pedro Almodovar. His recent shocker, The Skin I Live In (which I always refer to kermodically as “The Skin In Which I Live”) uses Eyes Without A Face in large part for inspiration.
Les Yeux Sans Visage - Combustible Edison - the screening was at the fantastic Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. To our surprise, Almodovar himself turned up to introduce the film, mostly through an interpreter. Here, Combustible Edison provide a cover of the main theme from the film, evocative (as in the original theme) of fairgrounds and sinister as all get-out.
Mack The Knife - Bobby Darin - a few days later, and we found ourselves following the recommendation of a friend to visit The Dresden, a bar, restaurant and music club in Los Feliz, an LA suburb. The Dresden is stuck in the fifties, but luckily it happens to be stuck in a time period that style has not forget. The whole place is effortlessly cool, and they pride themselves on their cocktails. The club is prominently featured in a standout scene in Doug Liman’s “Swingers” (starring Vincent Vaughn and Jon Favreau, both impossibly young). A constant feature of entertainment at the Dresden - for around thirty years now, several times a week, is the musical stylings of Marty and Elayne, Jazz and Swing musicians and singers. With the greatest respect to them, they looked pretty old when they appeared onscreen in “Swingers” performing a cover of Stayin’ Alive; they look positively ancient now. But they’ve still got it! Marty sang an awesome version of Mack the Knife, and at one point Elayne provided us with a jazz flute solo. Aqualung!
Heatwave - Marilyn Monroe - the second film which we booked tickets for at the AFI Film Festival was a preview screening of “My Week With Marilyn” (starring Kenneth Branagh as Lawrence Olivier and Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe - roles for which they were later both oscar-nominated). This was apparently a “Gala Screening” and it seemed like a good idea to dress up. I don’t think either of us realised that a) there would be a genuine red carpet outside; b) that actual celebrities would walk down said carpet and be watching the film with us; c) that the film would be introduced by HARVEY FRICKIN WEINSTEIN, bringing Michelle Williams, Dominic Cooper, Julia Ormond and a world-famous pianist to the stage (who performed for us the main theme from the film). It was a pretty special screening anyway, taking place as it did in the famous Chinese Theater. The Monroe-sung “Heatwave” opens the film.
Viva Las Vegas - Elvis Presley - after Los Angeles came Las Vegas. The next two songs reflect our conflicting feelings about Vegas. Take into account that neither of us are notorious lushes or gamblers - my Dad had a pretty bad gambling habit, it’s not something I’m normally drawn to - and you may understand why we were conflicted. But this song represents the good parts of Vegas.
Don’t Make Me Come To Vegas - Tori Amos - this reflects the downside, the trepidation, and heck, let’s throw in the awful all-pervading attitude to women, the prostitutes, the naked and mostly-naked women everywhere, the staggering crassness of almost everything, the debasement, and so on.
You Make My Dreams - Hall and Oates - this was one of the songs on the soundtrack piped out by our hotel (The Wynn - the best) and also one of my favourite songs ever since keyboard cat and the dance routine from 100 Days of Summer (watch both if you’ve not seen either).
Wild Horses - The Rolling Stones - on day two of Vegas (I think), we were exploring The Venetian (the hotel and casino, not just someone from Venice) and stumbled into the House of Blues for a bit of a break and a drink, wherein we were conversationally engaged by a delightful american couple who were well-accustomed to Vegas as a vacation destination and very chatty. It was the middle of the day so the place was far from packed, but on-stage a musician was busy performing a cover of Wild Horses, a great song whichever way you cut it.
Neon Bible - Arcade Fire - one of the, perhaps, less than common activities we chose to indulge in whilst in Sin City was to visit the Neon Boneyard, an open museum (currently hoping to raise enough money to get a proper building for their collection), which exhibits neon Vegas signs of yesteryear (from casinos, bars, hotels, petrol stations, launderettes… you name it, they’ve got it), discarded and upgraded in the constant Vegas neon war of competitive advertising. Well worth a visit, some great sights, but the whole time I was there, this was stuck in my head.
My Life - Billy Joel - our Silicon Valley friends Nadyne and Michael joined us for the last few days of our stay in Vegas (it was Michael who had suggested the Wynn as our hotel of choice, and for that we must be eternally thankful), and it was while wandering up and down the strip with them both (somewhere near the Bellagio I think) that this song starting playing out from the (as-ever) hidden speakers, and most of our foursome started singing along. You can’t beat a bit of Billy, really, can you?
The Phantom Of The Opera - Original London Cast - the Venetian has an (apparently) monstrously cut-down version of Phantom, and if you’re anywhere near the theatre in the casino, the music from the show will be being played on the speakers. It was our soundtrack as we sat one afternoon with our cookies and coffees.
Lean On Me - Bill Withers - an absolute pleasure, some would say strangely, for me whenever we are in the States is being able to watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and The Colbert Report, almost every night. On this particular night, an evening’s drinking and dining with our holidaying partners ended in our hotel room (steady now), from where we had a great view out of the window down onto the strip, and onto the Lake of Wonders or Dreams or whatever-the-hell they called it at the Wynn, the venue for a several-times-a-night light and music show, sometimes featuring giant frogs or copulating coloured balls (I’m not kidding). The Colbert Report had a surprisingly-moving segment where Stephen Colbert and Michael Stipe duetted on a version of “Lean On Me”. We all watched, spellbound.
A few days later the vacation was over. I think we’ll be back someday.