The summer I was 15, getting out of the house was an absolute necessity. So was being as artistic and pretentious as possible.
Fortunately, my friend Kristy was extremely pretentious, and she was hipper and more intellectual than me, being into Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground and Jane’s Addiction. She was also smart, rebellious and up for anything — much like the city itself in the mid-’80s.
Although heavy metal ruled the Sunset Strip at that time, I was oblivious to the fact that some of our Immaculate Heart classmates were underage fixtures in that scene. I was busy geeking out big-time in K-town with my Prince, Talking Heads and Beatles LPs.
But somehow, for me, no destination was more mysterious and ultimately cool than the Hollywood Bowl, which Kristy and I discovered we could usually get into for four bucks. And the nosebleeds were the best seats in the house! Way up in the bleachers you got the whole picture, the fullest sound, the most canyony smell, the fewest neighbors — and the best chance of a contact high.
It didn’t matter who was playing — the experience of the place itself, and the freedom of being out at night under the stars, was the main thing. My incredibly sophisticated older sister, Maggie (who was maybe 20), came along once or twice. I saw Woody Herman’s orchestra, and was excited to catch Ella Fitzgerald. I was bummed when she canceled due to illness, and I had never heard of her replacement, “Sarah Vaughan.” Ella did return the following year and tripped while onstage. Lying there with the mike in her hand, she ad-libbed, “Well, L.A., I guess I really fell for you.”
In many ways, we were still children, and like children, Kristy, Maggie and I decided to form a secret club — the “Hollywood Bowlers,” whose main activity would be going to the Hollywood Bowl.
To prove our dedication to the club, though, we would have to undergo a daring initiation/hazing.
I have no clue who came up with the specific idea for the ritual. Its dorkiness factor leads me to suspect myself; the danger factor, my sister. I also don’t remember how we ended up at that particular concert or the performer’s name. I don’t remember how long he played before we committed our crime. All I know is this: These were the glasnost/perestroika days, and some fancy Soviet pianist was making his first-ever appearance in the United States. Maybe we wanted to be a part of history, because in the middle of the concert, in the middle of the quietest possible moment, we screamed as loudly as we possibly could, “Hooray for the Hollywood Bowlers!”
Following our plan, we bolted down the aisle toward the freedom of the parking lot — but ushers blocked our path! We turned and saw more ushers coming toward us. They acted tough, grabbing us by the arm as if we were criminals. I didn’t realize we had done anything bad. We’d just wanted to embarrass ourselves horrifically — that was the point of the ritual.
They dragged us backstage into a harsh fluorescent-lit office. It’s all a great and awful blur of some glowering, towering swarthy man in a tux yelling and fist-pounding and teeth-gnashing and screaming at us in an accent (Russian?), “Do youknow what you’ve done? What were you thinking? I could have you arrested at this moment! What did you say?”
“Uhhh . . .” we peeped. “Hooray for the Hollywood Bowlers.”
“I never want to see your faces again. And you —” he pointed to Maggie — “I think I’ve seen you at UCLA. If I ever see you again, I want you to turn around and walk away and pretend you never saw me.”
This was officially the scariest man in the whole world.
Sadly, for 15 years I never went back to any classical concerts at the Bowl. Of course, I eventually got over it. The Bowl was, and remains, one of the primary magical places in Los Angeles, and I’m certain it was built on sacred grounds.
P.S.: Two years later, Kristy and I returned to the Bowl, this time onstage, wearing white satin gowns. Like Maggie before us, we were finally graduating from Immaculate Heart. Kristy and I had drifted apart by then, and as we sat listening to my dad deliver the commencement address (on the theme of “rebellion,” no less) I didn’t even think about our club, and what had happened to it. But when our class sang “You’ve Got a Friend” (oh, yeah) in three-part harmony, I was astonished by the clarity and force of the sound that washed back upon us — 150 teenage girls’ voices magnified into something supple and strong, crushingly poignant and somehow important.