You can’t come to LA with the obsession I have about The Doors and Jim Morrison and not go on a little orienteering expedition to find key places in their history. The first part of the day is exactly how that was spent. Actually, I think a little bit of the whole day had some sort of reference to The Doors about it.
I’d done a bit of research beforehand to find where these places were, courtesy of rayandrobby.com, which gives a tour guide to all the places in LA that are relevant to The Doors. I knew I wasn’t going to get round all of them, but I liked the idea of being on sort of trail.
I started off driving through Laurel Canyon, wanting to pass where Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson lived on The Rothdell Trail off Laurel Canyon Blvd, now immortalised through the song, ‘Love Street’. After that I continued onto Wonderland Avenue, having read the book of the same name by Danny Sugerman, where half of is about The Doors and the other half is about Iggy Pop.
I got to briefly see these places in a passing car because there was no way of stopping. What a nightmare these roads are. How do people drive on them through Laurel Canyon? Apart from the fact that they are in a pretty rough condition, they twist and turn throughout the hills and often narrow so only one car can get through at a time. My three point turn on the heart of Wonderland Avenue didn’t go down too well with oncoming drivers. If the driving appeared to be manic, how does anyone walk through Laurel Canyon on these death trap roads…..oh sorry…..no one walks in LA, I forgot.
After that drive we decided to dump the car and do some walking to nearby sights near Sunset and Santa Monica. First of all we walked down La Cienega to visit The Alta Cienega Motel where Morrison lived for a while. It is now a tourist attraction and has become a shrine inside the room he stayed in most, number 32, which you can actually stay in today. If I had known about this beforehand I may have been tempted to book at least one night there. Staying in the same room where Morrison once lived could’ve been a bit trippy to say the least.
Trundling further down La Cienega is the old Elektra Records Studios where The Doors recorded ‘The Soft Parade’ and ‘Morrison Hotel’ albums. A short walk back onto Santa Monica, just around the corner from the motel is where The Doors offices used to be from 1968-72. It’s perhaps more famed for being the location for the entire LA Woman album being recorded here. This little pocket I was currently wandering around was steeped in ingenuity.
Both Sunset Blvd and Santa Monica Blvd are where lots happened in Doors history, and even though I couldn’t keep track of everywhere Morrison went from the guide on the link above, I’m pretty sure that just by walking the streets I was following in his shadow.
We stopped at a Coffee Bean on Santa Monica, planning to venture down to Venice Beach afterwards. What I didn’t count on by sitting outside The Coffee Bean was running into the solitary famous person I saw for the whole two weeks, Lothaire Bluteau!! Yes, the one and only Lothaire Bluteau, that famous actor. Ok so he’s not A-list but I did recognise him from being in Oz, 24 and Tudors. He was sat opposite me rehearsing lines with another guy. That’s what got my attention at first, someone just casually acting out a script in a coffee bar, not exactly something you see every day in Manchester, but in LA it’s probably our equivalent of a builder reading the tabloids in a greasy spoon cafe. Anyway, I’m claiming it as a famous person sighting.
We took an uber down to Venice Beach, pooling with another couple, which is compulsory in LA due to their congestion problem. It does reduce the cost though. We found out later that the nine mile journey cost us about £6. If only getting back from Manchester after a night out was as cheap!
Again, driving through various parts of LA was an eye opener to the diverse nature of this vast city. We passed through the heart of Beverly Hills and the outskirts of Bel Air. Our uber driver acted as a tour guide by pointing out various points of interest. We took quick glances up the streets that were besieged with green, a complete contrast to the grey jungle on the opposite side of the road. People sat on the grass verges at the entrance to these long estates. It was like a mini park by the side of the road, and appeared a bit strange. Usually people like quiet surroundings to lie on the grass, but here, they were quite content to do it by the side of a busy road.
No sooner had we passed Beverly Hills the areas become a little less affluent, and the visions of homelessness occurs more frequently. Every bridge we see underneath the huge freeways is littered with tents and trolleys for those unfortunate in life. It’s an eye opening and sad sight to see just how much poverty resides in a city famed for so much richness. To be honest, Vegas was the same too. I don’t profess to know the ins and outs of the mentalities of homeless people, or the policies of the American Government, but surely something more can be done. This isn’t one of America’s proudest achievements. We saw it on near enough every street we drove down on this side of the city.
I was excited to see Venice Beach given its fame and history. I was anticipating a summer of love vibe full of chilled out people still dressed in 60s attire enjoying nothing more than carrying on the good vibrations leftover from a glorious time period in the city. I thought the shops would be quirky, but classy and exclusive to a fashion that depicted that era. I thought the music of the 60s and 70s would still be heard blasting out of every window and door and that there wouldn’t be too much too difference between what I was seeing now compared to what the youth in the 60s saw.
The first thing I wanted to see was the famous Jim Morrison painting that’s plastered on the side of one of the buildings on the beach front. Without even saying anything to our driver he dropped us off right outside. What a stroke of luck! Obligatory pictures were taken posing in front of it, so now it was time for a stroll down the promenade where sadly, my expectations exceeded reality and I was left a little disappointed, and a little unnerved. It may be because it’s a Sunday so it’s extremely busy, but it’s not really full of tourists. It seems to be full of shady characters looking to hustle, manipulate and steal. I’m immediately put on guard and find myself walking with hands in my pockets.
I notice the increase in homelessness in Venice too. The grassy areas that link the beach from the shops are filled to the brim with the less fortunate. It’s crazy as it seems to merge with the tourists. I’m confused as to how this has happened. Surely those in charge wouldn’t want this camp of homeless in the middle of one of the major tourist spots of LA. You’d have thought they’d been moved on to a more designated area.
It’s not long before I’m approached by two young black youths trying to get me to buy their demo rap CD to help out a “couple of ghetto kids.” Sue tells them they’ve come to the right man because I have my own radio show. Thanks Sue! I’ve heard of this type of thing happening in New York, but I didn’t think I’d be collared in LA by a couple of ghetto kids ‘straight outta Compton’. I must look like a Connoisseur of rap music. Now, anyone with an ounce of sense might see the fact that a radio DJ crossing their path in these circumstances may be worth giving a free CD too. They don’t know the type of music I play, or how far my reach is, but it may be a worthwhile strategy to give me a CD for free. Did they give me a CD? Not at all. Their pushy and aggressive nature wasn’t going to work, but they still continued, even after my claims that I had no money on me. That only served them to direct me to the nearest ATM. I wasn’t going to budge, I was too disappointed that my visons of Venice were being shattered moments after arriving. As I walked away from them I became bemused as to why they wouldn’t chance giving away the CD to a DJ. I suspected it had fuck all on it and was just a scam, or they just knew they were shit.
Venice was full of people like that, along with street entertainers and mini stalls selling all sorts of quirky stuff. One shop even sold a selection of classy looking crack pipes (if there is such a thing). It was like a zoo and a haven for scammers and schemers. The odour of marijuana corroded the promenade too, and I think you couldn’t help but get a little buzz when the stench found its way to you. There’s an abundance of ‘pharmacies’ that sell weed too, subtly advertised in the brightest green imaginable. $40 for a prescription to buy weed for ‘medicinal’ purposes only. Incredible. I can imagine the range of excuses people came up to be prescribed this drug. If I was still in my smoking days I may have been tempted, but I think the thought of being high and less on my guard out here would’ve led to trouble or paranoia….or both.
We walked onto the beach itself which was huge, probably the largest I’ve been on in terms of distance from promenade to water as miles upon miles of white golden sand stretched as far as the eye could see, shaping itself around the Pacific coastline. Sue took her flip flops off as we walked on the sand, but pointed out her scepticism about stepping on a needle or something. It wasn’t so far-fetched to think something could be lurking beneath the sand given the nature of the people roaming about in Venice. It was very hippy like with an obvious relaxed attitude to narcotics.
It was strange walking up Venice Beach. Despite the apprehension I was whisked to an alternate time period. It was on Venice Beach where Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison met up and decided to form The Doors after Morrison read out some of his lyrics. I tried to picture that moment in my mind, searching for the whereabouts that incident occurred on the beach. It was all part of the magic and enigma of The Doors that had engrossed me since my late teens. The day had revolved around The Doors, and with plans later that night to visit the famous Whisky a Go Go, the ghost of Morrison was sure to follow us around a little while longer yet.
Whisky A Go Go
This was one of the more exciting parts of the trip. I finally get to set foot inside The Whisky a Go Go, billed as being the hub and home of rock n roll, certainly from America’s point of view, and certainly from being the launch pad for The Doors. Thankfully it didn’t cost $50 to get in, but we still have to pay $12 each as there are bands playing, which I’m looking forward to seeing, and I like the idea of supporting local, underground music, the central theme of Sonic Bandwagon that now stretches to LA.
We walk in and immediately I turn my focus to the stage. I’m struck by how clean the view is. It’s almost like a filter has been held in front of it to make it appear in HD. It looks so clear, possibly due to the effect from the lighting. It was a Photographer’s dream!
I order two beers from the bar then walk towards the stage. Once I hit the floor I look up above to see the balcony and imagine this is where Paul Rothchild saw The Doors play that blew his mind enough to get them into a recording studio, despite it being the gig where Morrison sings the infamous line in ‘The End’ for the first time (or the movie would have you believe it happens this way). Speaking of Morrison, pictures hang on the wall opposite in honour of his status and importance. Hendrix is next to him and in between are three huge bottles, two Jack Daniels and one Southern Comfort. I think Jack Daniels is the official sponsor of Sunset Boulevard. Their presence is everywhere and why would it not, given we are in the heart of rock n roll.
The band, 205, make an impact as soon as their first song starts, and I get a feel for the sound The Whiksy a Go Go offers. It’s so crisp, with no feedback whatsoever and sounds unreal. It makes me sad that Mohawk Radio’s phenomenal sound won’t be heard in here! One day though, who knows?
205’s charismatic frontman Thomas Maxwell is a revelation, looking nonchalantly cool and constantly on the move, even in the musicians solo sections. In some sort of uncanny way, there is a Morrison-esque spirit about him, quite an eye catching and captivating guy to watch onstage, full of confidence and swagger. The band are pretty damn good too, playing the sort of funk/heavy rock that gets the crowd bouncing, reminiscent in parts of Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Their bassist is particularly talented with his solos, and even Maxwell himself salutes him by saluting his, ‘slapping the bass’ skills. A term taken from the film, ‘I Love You Man’, set in LA funnily enough.
It was a great set 205 played, especially since they said they’ve only been together since the start of February. Afterwards I did my Paul Rothchild bit (or a Tony Wilson equivalent from our neck of the woods), just as he did with The Doors and spoke to the lead singer, telling him about Sonic Bandwagon and to ask him to send me some material for us to play on the show….so listen out on future airings.
We left the Whisky a Go Go in a normal and civilised fashion. I did have the thought of jumping onstage just to see what it was like, or at least causing a ruckus to get myself ejected from the venue in true rock n roll fashion, but I settled for typical, British politeness…..however….I’ve still got one more night left.
Rock and Reilly’s
We went next door to a cool bar called Rock and Reilly’s Irish for a nightcap. Pictures of rock n roll dominated the walls, and of course there was the usual Morrison influence too, where they took the most famous image of him but had stuck an eye patch on him. It turns out that this place also has a bit of rock history associated with it too…..and there were Doors related stories part of that too. I guess the trail I’d been on all day had taken us right to the final moments of the night.
Me and Sue took a pew by the bar like you see in the movies in America, and spoke to the barmaid at length about LA. After a couple of beers we headed on back home. We had a big day ahead as our touring band, Mohawk Radio, were about to join us in LA after their trip to Texas.