It’s morning somewhere.
On the ’90s nostalgia train this week: trip hop & Ally McBeal, sundresses & biker boots. Sneaker Pimps’ 6 Underground launched me in to a Bond-esque orbit. It was really just the 405. Driving, driving, driving. Sunroof, Slurpee, Sunset. Imperial Highway, I-10, PCH, Santa Monica Bou-le-vard. K.C.R.W. The bubble of film school, where you could navel gaze, roller blade & delay, delay. I worked for a woman who Fed-Exed her Armani suit from Cannes to LA. Because she had vacation plans in Italy, after. I drove the box up through the Hollywood Hills & left it with her caretaker. Her pool was kidney-shaped.
AIDS was reality’s shadow. A friend of my cousin; he’d come to WeHo from Florida. He played me Mariah Carey for the first time. Vision of Love. And paid me well to sand & spackle the walls of a condo he bought, about a year before. The down payment came from money he’d embezzled from work. He never got caught. He just passed away.
Vision of Love is still my favorite Mariah song.
And 6 Underground is the business.
The other day I saw a double-decker-bus-sized ad celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Baby G watch and I thought: the ’90s are truly back. Pop culture has been flirting with a ’90s revival since last year, celebrating all things flannel and scrunchie, grunge and hip-hop. So in the middle of renewed interest in Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, TLC, En Vogue (yes!) and Smashmouth (no!), let’s not forget what other kind of music that decade brought us – trip hop. Or as I like to call it: music for American grown-ups who still want to think they’re cool because they listen to British stuff.
Trip hop was alternative without being too loud, fashion-forward and fresh yet welcoming to, ahem, mature listeners. You could take drugs to it late at night or you could play it while hosting a civilized Sunday brunch. Along with the slightly funkier acid jazz, trip hop was the go-to sound for urbanites who wanted a little edge but still needed to get to work in the morning. Part of the mellow underground for people such as myself who liked discovering new electronica music but didn’t have the stamina or the stomach for monotonous 10-hour raves.
One of my favorite trip hop bands is Zero 7, which is two guys – Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker – who started as sound engineers. Like a lot of trip hop producer-collectives, they use guest singers when they need vocals, so you get a variety of voices on their albums, both male (Jose Gonzalez) and female (Sophie Barker and Sia Furler). Zero 7 formed in the late ’90s but really made their mark in the early ’00s with albums like Simple Things and The Garden. They’re still making super smooth music and have just released a new EP – Simple Science. Here’s a playlist of some of my favorites from them.
In the 90s, I spent three years in Los Angeles while attending grad school, and I was lucky enough to hear about local, non-profit radio station, KCRW, while I lived there. One of their nighttime shows, Metropolis, was like Valhalla for trip hop fans. Massive Attack, Portishead, Sneaker Pimps, Tricky, Cibo Matto – they were all regulars on host Jason Bentley’s turntable. I used to listen to KCRW late at night while driving the streets of LA after evening classes. Metropolis and trip hop felt like the soundtrack to my mid-20s as I ‘made my way’ in the city. When I was still frivolous but full of adult ambition. Only a couple of years away from marriage and kids but young enough to indulge in the self-absorbed creation of future me.
Now I catch KCRW online, where I can listen to Jason Bentley’s morning show on demand. My life has changed dramatically since the ’90s, but KCRW’s music is still the same, still amazing.
Have a good week!
“California, California, you’re such a wonder that I think I’ll stay in bed…”
I’ve come to believe I’m inspired by my imagined Los Angeles, not the real thing. My memories are stronger and more stimulating than sitting in block after block of stoplights on Santa Monica Boulevard. As the relentless sun browns my forearms, I curse the traffic, the strip malls, the lack of parking, the banal movement of people and cars.
I lived here for three years and now I’m back for a week. And I wonder how I enjoyed the energy when it’s so fricking hard to get from A to B!
My stats thus far: four missed exits due to 405 construction, at least a half dozen U-turns (some illegal) and one $50 parking ticket. And that was in the first two days!
Have I flown here on an idea? A wishful scenario? The streets may not be paved with gold, an agent and a three-picture deal, but can they at least offer me an available parking spot?
I can only hope. I decide to head toward the sea. I get past Lincoln, down to Ocean, I get out of the car and I walk to the beach, to the never-ending lullaby of waves breaking. The sun is setting, the breeze is strong and the seagulls are so much bigger than I remembered. Now I know why I’m here. It sounds silly but I feel like the Pacific tells me so. I go to LACMA and drink in the light and the art and the tall palm trees silhouetted against the bluest sky. They escape my description, so I take a picture instead. I meet up with film school friends and we drink and talk shop: editing, writing, movies. I gossip with my cousin about celebrities, and I watch Fast Times at Ridgemont High at 10 o’clock in the morning, just because I can.
My job is to write, so I try to experience the city with ears and eyes wide open.
I walk the streets of West Hollywood and I realize there are a lot of weird old people here: tube-top-and-pink-cowboy-boot-wearing senior citizens pushing poodles in strollers.
I hear a lot of Goo Goo Dolls, Soundgarden and Jewel and I think this city is stuck in the ‘90s.
I sit at an outdoor café and I smile at the conversation going on behind me. A customer, who keeps calling our waitress ‘Hon’ and ‘Honey’, is giving her some advice:
“The biggest thing you have going for you is you’re not from here,” he says. “You’ll go far in this town. We have a governor who talks like you.”
The waitress is young and slim and she comes from a country where ‘J’s are pronounced like ‘Y’s. I don’t know if she responded favorably to being compared to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is in fact no longer California’s governor and who hasn’t had a hit movie since, well, the ‘90s. But she smiled and said thank you as the man paid his bill.
Did she imagine this LA?