By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It’s the same old story. Move into a down-on-its-heels neighborhood for cheap rent, boho charm and like-minded camaraderie. Then — WHAM! — gentrification, and the whole vibe starts to change. Next thing you know, Aaron Spelling’s army moves into a house two doors up the street, and Silver Lake, the TV show, is upon you. Please move your car before we tow.
Now, I like TV as much as anyone else, maybe even more so, and I know that we live in a company town, which is all right with me, really. But I also like my neighborhood more than any other I’ve lived in here. So, when those big rigs and large movie crews move in, taking all the parking spots and, adding injury to hipster insult, not even asking me to be a part of the shoot (read: pay to use my house), well, that old NIMBY thing raises its potentially ugly head. Figuring that free food was a moral imperative, I skulked over to the set for a possible lunch — and to see how Silver Lake stood up to, well, Silver Lake.
The TV version is a sort of Sixth Sense–lite but with an edge, according to one wandering grip. The idea for the show, from what I could glean from others on the set, is something along these obtuse and convoluted lines: Main-character guy Dennis, played by Kerr Smith, starts seeing ghosts as a kid, and since no one believes him, he is forced to take medication to prevent these trite and hackneyed cinematic visions from ruining his life too much. He gets older, a family member dies, and our protagonist comes into some money, with which he buys not just a record store but “the No. 1 used-record store” in Silver Lake. Dennis gets a great product-filled haircut and a cool 1970s Citroën, which, this being Silver Lake, gets booted all the time (not cool). He goes off the medication, moves in with his twin sister, Julie (Hedy Burress), who also has great hair, and then he starts to see them ghouls again. Of course.
Way back in 1919, Freud talked of the unheimlich, or the feeling of the uncanny, where it’s like real life but very different. I don’t know if Mr. Spelling has ever read Freud’s seminal text, but it seems that he may have, because the set of Silver Lake was just like my street and the people I see in the neighborhood, only with fewer trucker hats, cleaner ironic T-shirts and better skin. Unheimlich.
I don’t know if all of that is a good thing, but it may be, I think. Getting in on the act would do wonders for both my sartorial and ontological selves, so I asked one of the location managers if I could play an extra on the show — be, you know, like myself, only a hyperrealized, better-dressed and -coiffured version of me. The location manager took one look at me — a look that said, “No dice” — and replied, “Sorry, this is a union shoot.”
On the bright side, the guy offered me a sandwich. Little did he know I was already on my third.
Electro Vox Returns
Strolling into the former Electro Vox Studios, now Joey’s Place, on Melrose Avenue, is like entering a peculiar, shimmering dimensional rift. There’s the usual half-assed bustle of any recording session — this one booked by the Beastie Boys’ de facto witch doctor of the keyboards, Money Mark — a couple of guys messing around with the gear, setting up dueling drum kits at opposite ends of the room. What’s really remarkable here is the atmosphere, the pervasive aura of old Hollywood so present in the air itself it seems one could extend a hand and touch it.
Bandleader–musician–studio owner Joey Altruda walks a visitor through, pointing out with quiet pride the revisions (knocking out a wall, for instance, to enlarge the all-important green-room space) and telling tales of the legends who populated the spot. Altruda has epitomized a brand of underground cool few other Los Angeles players could match, and his acquisition of Electro Vox is an equally ambitious and propitious venture. “This Steinway Grand here was originally from Television City. They used it from ’52 on, for everything from Playhouse 90to a variety special with Bing and Louis Armstrong.” He reaches out to pet the piano. “They say when Bing was working across the street at Paramount, he’d come over all the time just to hang out.” Altruda eases through one of a series of black-framed portals. “I mean, talk about history, man . . .”
From his punk rock–era start as a teenage seeker steadily filling his skull with a trove of hipster ephemera, Altruda has escalated into an accomplished musical purist and internationally recognized ska, jazz and Latin-exotica tastemaker who always surrounds himself with fabled collaborators — most recently, legendary Cuban performer El Gran Fellove. His bizarre early-’80s art-punk combo Tupelo Chain Sex featured the late great R&B/rock & roll fiddler Don Sugarcane Harris. In his Jump With Joey era, he paired with legendary Jamaican producer Coxsone Dodd, and his ultrafrosty Cocktails With Joey used premier talent like Plas Johnson. In fact, Altruda says, after taking a few phone calls with a languid Hollywood urgency, “Plas was just here; you missed him.”