Bizarre Ride

Racism Charged Against Hollywood Bar That Forbids Hip-Hop

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Wed, May 8, 2013 at 9:14 AM
click to enlarge Rapper Open Mike Eagle was barred from playing Harvard & Stone - CREDIT: ANDY J SCOTT
  • Credit: Andy J Scott
  • Rapper Open Mike Eagle was barred from playing Harvard & Stone

[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]

One man's purity is another man's segregation. You don't expect to encounter those ideas in Hollywood in 2013, but they creep in through coding and innuendo.

Public racial slurs are rare, but people casually mention frequenting a club until it became overtaken by "the...well, you know." The doorman in Knocked Up was only half joking when he expressed his hopes for a black midget in the crowd, because the club promoters only permitted one and a quarter blacks for every 25 whites.

Music should be the exception. The best '60s L.A. band (Love) was a rainbow coalition. "To Live & Die in L.A." is a municipal anthem. Kendrick Lamar, the new rap regent, chants "fuck your ethnicity."

But there's a thin line between what's prejudiced and what's precious. Take a show that I co-curated at Harvard & Stone, a steam punk bunker in east Hollywood, where Jack Daniels is barred for being too plebe, and "mixologists" reproach you for incorrectly recounting the Moscow Mule's origins. Sometimes, they book good bands.

So when psychedelic fusionists Chicano Batman asked to partner for the first night of their May residency, I agreed. No money was involved. The event was free. Neither of the acts that I booked, art-rapper Open Mike Eagle and Ariel Pink (for a DJ set), stood to make more than a nominal fee -- a "for the love" gesture in an industry whose tab is often footed via sneaker or soda company.

But on the eve of the show, Chicano Batman's manager texted word from Harvard & Stone that they forbid hip-hop.

A follow-up text from the venue's General Manager, Steven Sue read: "Open Mike Eagle can't perform [because] we only do analog rock'n'roll, rhythm & blues-based stuff. I've never wavered from this policy and I never make exceptions."

So I bowed out. The next morning, Eagle wrote a poignant letter that you should read in full. It expresses anger and disappointment with the eloquence you'd expect from an artist who claims to be haunted by the "gay ghost of James Baldwin."

That's partially why his exclusion felt so unsettling. Eagle is more DIY and punk than 95 percent of the "rock and roll" bands out. He boasts about rolling down Slauson bumping '97 Weezer. He sings as much as he raps, and samples Pavement and They Might Be Giants. He's been embraced by the stand-up comedy world too -- with humorist Paul F. Tompkins reblogging Eagle's Tumblr article and adding, "I look forward to having the great Mike Eagle on one of my shows again."

When I called Leon Jenkins, the president of the L.A. NAACP, he said that the rule felt "discriminatory and racist. It attempts to exclude a certain crowd from the venue by coding it in language about a ban of rap."

If you combine the no-rap rule with Harvard & Stone's door policy banning "sports gear, logos, flip flops, most hats and loud colors," it reads like a sixth grade anti-gang manual passed out to petrified suburban moms.

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