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Guy Webster - photo by Lisa Gizara @GizaraFineArts.com

Guy Webster – photo by Lisa Gizara @GizaraFineArts.com

For 75 years, the legendary photographer Guy Webster led a charmed existence. Then health problems laid him low, to the point where he could no longer operate a camera or ride his beloved motorcycles. Now he is willing himself toward recovery, and cultivating a philosophical detachment toward what he has lost, and reveling in the richness of what remains: his family, his friends, and his memories of a truly extraordinary life.

By Mark Lewis

Ojai has no shortage of raconteurs, but Guy Webster is in a class by himself. Walk by NoSo Vita in the morning and you’ll likely see him sitting there with a cup of coffee in his hand, holding forth for a table full of friends. Drop by the Porch Gallery on a Saturday evening to attend an art opening and there he’ll be, sitting on the veranda at the center of a group that is hanging on his every word. And he drew a big crowd on Aug. 14 at the Ojai Valley Museum to hear him talk about his world-famous collection of classic Italian motorcycles, five of which were on glorious display in the background.

Over time, this collection has totalled more than 350 bikes, but Guy has sold most of them off. Since suffering a stroke in April 2015, he walks with difficulty and he can’t ride at all. Embracing the rehabilitation challenge, he took himself from wheelchair to walker to cane. More recently he took a tumble that has set back his recovery process, but he still maintains a hectic travel schedule, and when in town he still makes the rounds. On the eve of his 77th birthday, he sat down with the Ojai Quarterly to reminisce about his life and career.

TINSELTOWN TEEN

Guy Webster made his Hollywood debut at the age of 1 in November 1940, appearing in the hit film “You’ll Find Out,” which starred the popular bandleader Kay Kayser. The supporting cast included Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Bela Lugosi. According to the Internet Movie Database, Guy was cast as “an infant.” No screen credit, alas. But he did have one laugh line, of sorts: When someone asked him what he thought of Adolf Hitler, he stuck out his tongue and blew Hitler the raspberry.

“My father trained me to do that,” he says.

What had brought little Guy to a sound stage at such a tender age?  Blame it on another child actor, Shirley Temple. Several years earlier, the Fox studio had lured Guy’s father, the lyricist Paul Francis Webster, west from New York to write songs for Temple, then the biggest star in the world. Paul apparently only wrote one lyric for her – a lullaby she sang to her doll in “Our Little Girl” (1935). But he found Southern California very much to his liking, so he settled in Beverly Hills and became one of the movie industry’s most successful lyricists. Guy’s own film career ended where it began with “You’ll Find Out,” but his father went on to garner 16 Oscar nominations and three wins during his four-decade Hollywood career.

Working with such legendary composers as Hoagy Carmichael and Duke Ellington, Paul Webster wrote the words for many hit songs, at least three of which are now considered standards — “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” and “Black Coffee,” both composed by Ellington, and “The Shadow of Your Smile,” composed by Johnny Mandel.

Hits were nice, but it was Paul’s film work, mostly for MGM, which financed his Beverly Hills lifestyle. He installed his family — wife Gloria, sons Guy and Roger — in a handsome, three-story Tudor Revival house on North Crescent Drive near the Beverly Hills Hotel. Still, everything is relative, even in Beverly Hills.

“I thought we were poor because we didn’t have a tennis court,” Guy says.

Guy was a serious-enough tennis player at Beverly Hills High School that he came up here to play in The Ojai Tennis Tournament — his first exposure to his future home.  But sports heroes did not inspire awe in Beverly Hills, where Guy’s peer group included many children of Hollywood celebrities who were also future stars themselves: Edgar Bergen’s daughter Candice, Danny Thomas’s daughter Marlo, Frank Sinatra’s daughter Nancy, Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli. Guy’s good friends included Terry Melcher, whose mother, Doris Day, had sung Paul Webster’s Oscar-winning song “Secret Love” in the 1953 film “Calamity Jane.”

This sounds like a glamorous childhood, but Guy says it left him prematurely jaded, because it exposed him and his friends to the seamy side of their parents’ Hollywood lifestyle. This was during the “L.A. Confidential” 1950s, a time when Lana Turner’s teenage daughter Cheryl Crane came home to Beverly Hills from Ojai’s Happy Valley School for spring break in 1958 and stabbed her mother’s gangster lover Johnny Stompanato to death, in what was ruled a justifiable homicide. That’s an extreme example, but Guy and his friends saw things that did not square with the picture-perfect Hollywood image.

“We knew what was going on,” he says. “It shocked us. We saw it all. I didn’t like it.”

He escaped first to Whittier College and then, as a foreign-exchange student, to Copenhagen, where he hung around with “highly intelligent people” who were artistic rather than materialistic.

“It seemed like a respite for me to be away from the over-abundant life in Beverly Hills,” he says.

A political science major, he admired John F. Kennedy and planned to go into politics. But a short stint in the Army during the early 1960s diverted him into photography. His superiors at Fort Ord asked him to teach some of his fellow soldiers how to use a camera. He had never used one before, but he read some photography books and bluffed his way through, and found that he had real talent.

“I went nuts for it,” he says.

He had planned to attend grad school at Yale after he left the Army, but instead ended up at the Art Center College in Los Angeles, with the goal of becoming a fine-arts photographer who would show his work in galleries. And so he would — eventually. But first he had to make a living, and that led him to Hollywood.

Guy’s father did not approve of his career choice, and declined to fund it.

“He thought I’d be a paparazzo,” Guy says. “He cut me off financially at a very early age.”

So Guy started working for the many record companies based in Los Angeles. He already had connections in the industry, including his old friend Terry Melcher.

This was 1963, when the pop charts were still dominated by teen-idol types who were crooners rather than rockers. The labels offered Guy plenty of work shooting Hollywood-style portraits of popular young singers like Wayne Newton — and Johnny Mathis, who had scored hits with several Paul Francis Webster songs, including “The Twelfth of Never.” But Guy was more in tune with people like Melcher who were more into rock ‘n’ roll.

As a singer, Melcher comprised half of Bruce and Terry, a vocal duo he had formed with the future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston. As a songwriter and a record producer, Melcher had his own company, T.M. Music. Despite its name, T.M. was dominated, not by Melcher, but by his high-profile business partner, the singer Bobby Darin. Melcher connected Guy with Darin, and as a result, Guy ended up photographing  Darin for Capitol Records. It turned out that Guy’s then wife, Bettie, was good friends with Darin’s then wife, the movie star Sandra Dee, so the two couples began socializing together.

Darin personified the changes that were in the air. He had started out in ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll (“Splish Splash”), then segued into his Sinatra mode (“Mack the Knife”), and was now exploring new sounds — not only country and folk, but also surf music and its subset, hot rod rock. The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean currently were scoring hits in this genre, so Darin and Melcher decided to try their hand at it. They co-wrote “Hot Rod USA,” which Melcher then put on an album he and Johnston were co-producing called “Three Window Coupe.” (Any conceptual resemblance to the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe” was entirely not coincidental.)

“Three Window Coupe” was credited to a group called the Rip Chords, although Melcher and Johnston apparently did most of the singing in the recording studio, and the L.A. session players known as the Wrecking Crew provided the music. Having recorded the album, Melcher needed an eye-catching sleeve for it, so naturally he called his friend Guy. The resulting cover shot featured a hot-rodded Ford V8 parked incongruously on a beach, garnished with a surfboard and the putative Rip Chords, ogling a comely young lady in a bikini.

“Columbia Records loved it,” Guy recalls.

This was his first album cover. Little did he realize that this would be the format where he would make his biggest mark on the culture.

Like Bobby Darin, Guy straddled the fault line between the glamorous Hollywood of the ‘50s and the trippy counterculture of the ‘60s. He would make the scene at the Whiskey a Go Go, a new discotheque on the Sunset Strip, where rockers like Johnny Rivers ruled the roost; but he also frequented the old-school Cocoanut Grove nightclub on Wilshire Boulevard, where he had been introduced to Bettie on a night when he was there with “Moon River” and “Pink Panther” composer Henry Mancini, a family friend. The 1960-64 period represented an overlap between these two eras, and Guy had a foot in each camp.

Nevertheless, he saw where things were heading. The new generation was getting ready to take over, and he would be on hand with his camera to record the transition. But nobody yet knew how cataclysmic this particular transition would turn out to be.

 

COVER BOY

The Rip Chords’ biggest hit single was “Hey, Little Cobra,” with Terry Melcher, uncredited, on lead vocal. It peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on Feb. 8, 1964. One day later, the Beatles made their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and the world changed, practically overnight. When the Beatles played the Hollywood Bowl in August, Guy was there, looking on from a premium box as a guest of the elderly gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, of all people. She scored the tickets, but he brought the credibility.

“I was the hot photographer in the music business, and so she invited me to come with her,” he says.

Guy couldn’t hear much music that night, due to all the screaming by the teenage girls in the audience. But he could see everything quite clearly, and he knew he was looking at the future. Hot rod rock soon went the way of the Dodo, and “Three Window Coupe” made no headway on the album charts, suddenly dominated by British Invasion groups. But American rockers would soon regroup, with help from a new wave of hip, young producers, one of whom would turn out to be Terry Melcher.

Doris Day was still the biggest female movie star in America in 1964, but her son’s contributions to mid-1960s culture would prove more enduring. Now a full-time producer at Columbia, Melcher had moved on from the Rip Chords to Paul Revere and the Raiders. Then he took on a new group called the Byrds, and produced their cover of a not-yet-released Bob Dylan song, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The single shot up to No. 1 in the spring of 1965, establishing folk rock as an alternative to British Invasion rock. For a time, the Byrds were hailed as America’s answer to the Beatles, and Melcher was the producer with the golden touch.

That summer, Melcher introduced Guy to another young producer, Lou Adler, who had just founded Dunhill Records. Adler asked Guy to shoot the cover for a new Dunhill album, “Eve of Destruction,” by a little-known singer named Barry McGuire. Guy posed McGuire in a manhole and shot him in black and white, to create a dramatic, gritty-looking image to go with the title song. Released as a single, it went to No. 1 during that epochal summer of ‘65, when rock ‘n’ roll matured into rock music, and “the Sixties” finally kicked into gear.

That fall, when it came time to produce the Byrds’ follow-up album to “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Melcher hired Guy to shoot the cover. Guy’s evocative, arty creation for “Turn! Turn! Turn!” earned him his first Grammy nomination.

People today much under the age of 40 cannot conceive how important album art was in the pre-digital era, and especially in the vinyl era, when LPs were physically big enough to give photographers and art directors scope for their creativity. Their work had a huge impact, because album buyers would hold the sleeves in their hands and stare at the cover while the music played in the background. This was a new art form, and a relatively short-lived one, much like the MTV music video of the 1980s. But album art was a very big deal in its day, and especially in the ‘60s, when the rock audience went supernova.

Chart-topping albums that might once have sold thousands of copies now sold in the millions, and every copy was a visual showcase for photographers like Guy Webster. Rock fans took their music very seriously as an art form, which meant that the album covers must be art too, and the people who created those covers must be artists. And so they were.

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” was just the beginning. That same fall, Guy created at least three other covers that remain iconic today.

For Dunhill, Lou Adler asked him to shoot the cover for the first album by a new group, The Mamas and the Papas. During the shoot in the group’s Laurel Canyon house, everyone got high together, to the point where Guy was no longer very steady on his feet. This was not the way he usually worked, but on this particular day it worked out well. When all four members of the group crowded into the bathroom at one point, inspiration struck.

“I said, ‘I’ve got it — get into the bathtub,’ “ Guy says. “I put the camera on a tripod because I couldn’t hold it.”

The resulting shot — John Phillips, Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty sitting in the tub, with lovely Michelle Phillips recumbent upon their laps — became the eye-catching cover image for “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears,” the 1966 album that featured the monster hits “California Dreamin’ ” and “Monday Monday.”

Guy Webster's classic photo of the Mamas and the Papas.

Guy Webster’s classic photo of the Mamas and the Papas.

Meanwhile, Adler introduced Guy to the Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, who told him that the Stones would be in L.A. soon to record their album “Aftermath.” Would Guy like to shoot them? Yes he would, and shortly thereafter he found himself escorting Mick, Keith & Co. up into Franklin Canyon north of Beverly Hills for a photo shoot near a reservoir. One of these shots, featuring Brian Jones in vivid red corduroys in the foreground, provided the cover for the Stones’ 1966 album “Big Hits (Green Grass and High Tide),” while portrait shots from a later session in Guy’s studio ended up on the cover of their 1967 album “Flowers.”

Then there was Simon and Garfunkel. Columbia assigned Guy to photograph this up-and-coming duo for the cover of their second album, “Sounds of Silence.” He took them up to Franklin Canyon and captured the image that still endures: two young troubadours on a country road, looking back at the camera as they head uphill toward parts unknown.

After the shoot, Guy brought Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel home to meet his parents, and Simon brought his guitar from his car and played the album’s title song for Guy’s songwriter father, who loved it.

One might assume that by this point in the ‘60s, Paul Francis Webster’s day was done. Wrong. Paul won his third Oscar in 1966 for co-writing “The Shadow of Your Smile,” which also won the Grammy for Song of the Year, beating out the Beatles and “Yesterday.”

Around this time, Paul was hired to write the lyrics for the theme song of a new animated TV show, “Spider-Man.” Ever versatile, he came up with lines that would soon be imprinted on millions of young brains: “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can.”

In 1967, both Paul and Guy were nominated for Grammys: Paul for Song of the Year for “Somewhere, My Love,” set to the tune of “Lara’s Theme” from “Dr. Zhivago;” Guy for the “Turn! Turn! Turn!” cover photograph. Neither Webster won that year, but both continued to thrive. Paul remained a successful songwriter well into the ‘70s, outlasting the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas and Simon and Garfunkel. He died in 1984.

(For those who are keeping count, in addition to “Secret Love,” Paul’s other Oscar win was for “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” in 1955.)

 

GO-TO GUY

By 1966, Guy Webster had established himself as a go-to guy for every record company in Hollywood, so it was hardly a surprise that fall when Jac Holzman of Elektra Records hired him to create the cover for the debut album by a new group Holzman had signed. What was a surprise, at least for Guy, was that when the band showed up at his studio for the shoot, the lead singer greeted him like an old friend. It turned out they had met years before when Guy was taking a philosophy class at UCLA.

“Guy, it’s Jim.”

“You know me?”

“Guy, we went to UCLA together.”

“Oh my God. Jim!”

It was Jim Morrison, much thinner and with much longer hair than when Guy had last seen him in the classroom. The group, of course, was the Doors, and the album cover, dominated by Morrison’s handsome face, would earn Guy his second Grammy nomination.

“The Doors” was released in January 1967, and by June the single “Light My Fire” was igniting the charts. This was the eve of the Summer of Love, and the Doors clearly were going places — but they would not be going to the summer’s inaugural event, the soon-to-be-legendary Monterey Pop Festival, which took place that same June.

Jim Morrison and the Doors. Morrison was a former classmate of Guy Webster.

Jim Morrison and the Doors. Morrison was a former classmate of Guy Webster.

The festival was the brainchild of Guy’s L.A. circle — Lou Adler, John Phillips, Terry Melcher and others. The Doors, for whatever reason, were not invited to join the line-up. But Guy was invited to attend, in an official capacity. He had created the influential flowerchild image featured in the festival brochure, and he was there in person to shoot Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Who as they passed into legend.

In the wake of Monterey, Herb Alpert invited Guy to head up the art department at A&M Records. Guy accepted, in part because he could see that rock was now becoming a big business, which meant more corporate interference with the creative types. Photographers like Guy would henceforth have less control over their work. But A&M as an independent label employed fewer suits and could allow Guy more autonomy.

In her 2009 book “Who Shot Rock & Roll,” the photography historian Gail Buckland described Guy Webster’s 1960s oeuvre as “part of the collective unconscious of an entire generation. The look of a Webster photograph is the look of the period; he took the photograph of the gorgeous, seemingly naked blonde in a pool of water with flowers surrounding her that was the centerpiece of the brochure for the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967. He identified and isolated a look and an attitude, and then millions copied it. His photographic record of the sixties is as descriptive, in its own way, as Kerouac’s is of the fifties.”

During his rock ‘n’ roll heyday, Guy photographed an extraordinary range of notable recording artists. In addition to the above-mentioned legends, his subjects included Bob Dylan, Sonny and Cher, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Liza Minnelli, Nancy Sinatra, Chicago, Procol Harum, Nico, the Turtles, Carole King, Taj Mahal, Judy Collins, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Rivers, Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66, Captain Beefheart, Barbra Streisand, Earth, Wind & Fire, Randy Newman and Igor Stravinsky, along with many others.

(Local note: Guy created striking covers for the first two Spirit albums, both produced by Lou Adler. This band included former Ojai residents Ed Cassidy and his stepson Randy Wolfe, a.k.a. Randy California, along with future Ojai resident John Locke.)

One classic album cover Guy might have shot, but did not, was “Smile” by the Beach Boys, the projected follow-up to their classic 1966 album “Pet Sounds.” Nobody shot “Smile,” because the group’s resident genius, Brian Wilson, apparently had some sort of mental meltdown in the spring of 1967, and the much–anticipated album never came out, at least not as originally conceived.

Guy took many photographs of Wilson and the Beach Boys in the mid-1960s – he joined them on tour a couple of times, and he was there in the studio when they recorded the complicated vocal tracks for “Good Vibrations.” Brian Wilson paid tribute to Guy by writing the foreword to “Big Shots: Rock Legends and Hollywood Icons, The Photography of Guy Webster,” a lavishly illustrated, coffee-table book published in 2014.

“When Guy worked with us in 1966 and 1967 there were many different sessions with lots of different people on the dates, haunting the hallways,” Wilson wrote. “I was pretty focused on producing the music, so I was never certain where Guy was lurking, but man, he was right there.”

 

Webster's photo of Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival was among the many featured in the "Who Shot Rock and Roll?" exhibit.

Webster’s photo of Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival was among the many featured in the “Who Shot Rock and Roll?” exhibit.

INTERLUDE: HELTER SKELTER

Back in the day, the Beach Boy whom Guy was closest to was not Brian but his younger brother Dennis, the group’s drummer. And it was through Dennis Wilson — and Terry Melcher — that Guy began hearing about an aspiring singer-songwriter named Charles Manson.

Manson was a creepy ex-con with a harem of young female runaways, whom he shared with Dennis in order to worm his way into the Beach Boy’s confidence. Thus did Manson penetrate the Hollywood rock ‘n’ roll world — Guy’s world.

“I was invited to Manson’s party at Dennis’s house in Pacific Palisades,” Guy says. “I didn’t go, but I heard all about it from my friend Ned Wynn.”

Wynn, the son of actor Keenan Wynn and the grandson of actor-comedian Ed Wynn, reported that Manson and his “family” had served up a sumptuous feast and then announced to their guests that all the food had been foraged from garbage dumpsters.

Terry Melcher did not attend that party either, but he was introduced to Manson another time, via a person who had met him through Dennis Wilson. As a producer, Melcher had a professional interest in cultivating new songwriters. Some authors who have written about Manson assert that Melcher initially was intrigued by the charismatic charlatan. Guy says these authors are mistaken.

“Terry wanted nothing to do with him,” Guy says. “He was too spooky and scary.”

But Manson evidently saw Melcher as his ticket to the big time, and was angry when Melcher declined to punch that ticket.

At the time, Melcher was living with the actress Candice Bergen in a rented house at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon. (Guy says it was he who originally had set Melcher up with Bergen.) Guy himself never crossed paths with Manson at that house, or anywhere else. But he recalls attending a small dinner party there during which Manson’s name came up. Melcher and Bergen had only three guests that night: Guy and Bettie and Melcher’s mother, Doris Day. Melcher told them that Manson had been to the house, and that he (Melcher) was worried about what might happen. So he and Bergen were vacating the premises.

“Candice and I are moving to Malibu,” Melcher announced.

The address was a secret, Guy says: “Only his mother and Bettie and I knew.” Nevertheless, Manson somehow got wind of this move. He knew that Melcher had left Benedict Canyon behind. But Manson evidently wanted to send the producer a message. (And perhaps to touch off an apocalyptic race war while he was at it.) On Aug. 9, 1969, he sent his minions to the Cielo Drive house to kill whoever was there — which turned out to be Sharon Tate and her houseguests.

Guy was camping upstate amid the sequoias with Bobby Darin and their families when the news came over the radio about the mysterious slaughter in Benedict Canyon, at an address he knew very well. It would be months before police identified the killers, but Guy already had an inkling.

“I had a cognition — it could have been Manson,” he says.

All Hollywood was terrified.

“It put a damper on the wonderful ‘60s,” Guy says. “Everything was peace and light, and then you had this monster unleashed on the public. It scared everybody. People armed themselves.”

Guy bought a guard dog to protect his family, and Bettie took to wearing a .25 on her hip. (They and their three kids lived in Beverly Hills, not far from Benedict Canyon.) Terry Melcher hired armed guards to provide around-the-clock protection for himself and his movie-star mother, lest there be further depredations by murderous hippies. But it was melanoma rather than Manson that eventually claimed Melcher’s life, in 2004. (Doris Day is still very much with us, at 92.)

“Terry and I stayed friends ‘till he died,” Guy says.

 

EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS

Having taken over the record industry, Hollywood’s longhaired Young Turks next made their move on the movie industry. Older stars like Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor made way for the likes of Warren Beatty and Jane Fonda — and Jack Nicholson, whom Guy met in 1968 on the set of “Easy Rider.” Guy by this point had developed a sideline gig shooting celebrities for the Los Angeles Times, so it was a natural segue for him to shoot what were called “specials” for the film studios. His book “Big Shots” features Nicholson on its cover and plenty of other film stars inside, alongside the rockers.

(For an analysis of Guy’s approach to portrait photography, see Anca Colbert’s “Art And About” column in the Summer 2014 Ojai Quarterly.)

Guy had come full circle. Having grown up within the Hollywood world, he had returned to it in triumph. Rock stars now outranked film stars in terms of cultural prestige, so actors like Nicholson were eager to be immortalized by the same photographer who had shot the Doors and the Stones.

The irony is that by this point in his life, Guy was getting ready to leave the Hollywood scene behind. He had been working hard since he was a teenager.  In 1971, he rented out his Beverly Hills house and took his family to Europe for what would turn out to be a very long break.

“I took off and I didn’t come back for five years,” he says.

Guy loved living in Florence and summering on Minorca, and he found plenty of professional work to sustain him in Europe. He also began acquiring Italian motorcycles at this time. But ultimately his marriage to Bettie foundered, so he returned to L.A. (and to Beverly Hills) in the mid 1970s to pick up the pieces. He got involved with the stylistically innovative WET Magazine (“The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing”), and he married the actress and model Leone James and began a second family. Which is what finally brought him to Ojai.

 

THE BRIDGE

Guy being Guy, the story he tells of how he and Leone got together is a long and compelling tale involving a Hollywood film premiere (“Superman,” 1978) and an ice-skating outing (with the Olympics gold medalist Dorothy Hamill, who later married Guy’s friend Dino Martin, a son of the film star Dean Martin who had given Guy one of his first motorcycles, but that’s another story). Suffice to say that he and Leone met, fell in love and began planning a life together.

“We didn’t want to raise children in Beverly Hills,” he says. They considered New Mexico and Oregon as alternatives. Then one day in 1979, Guy stopped off in Ojai while en route to Santa Barbara, and he happened to see the picture of a certain house on display in the window of a real-estate office in the Arcade. The house was on Reeves Road in the East End, and the driveway crossed a white bridge to get to the property. The bridge is what really caught Guy’s eye.

“I had a cognition,” he says. “I was supposed to buy this house.”

The house had started life as a barn on the old Soule Ranch (now Soule Park). Zadie Soule sold it circa 1948 to a Russian ballet dancer named C. Kahn Bashiroff, a Cold War defector who had settled in Santa Barbara and wanted a weekend home in Ojai. Bashiroff moved the barn to the Reeves Road lot and began converting it into a house. When Guy first encountered the structure three decades later, it still needed a lot of work. Undeterred, he bought it the very next day, and he and Leone moved in in 1980.

“We spent 20 years remodeling it,” he says.

At first they just spent weekends here. But the people they met in Ojai were interesting and the valley was beautiful, so they found themselves spending more time up here. “When the kids came along, we just stayed,” he says.

And so Guy Webster finally left Beverly Hills behind him for good, and put down roots in Ojai. His and Leone’s two daughters, Jessie and Merry, attended the Oak Grove School. Many friends from L.A. who came to visit were inspired to buy houses here too, he says, mentioning Mary Steenburgen, Malcolm McDowell and Peter Strauss among others. Meanwhile Guy continued to work as a photographer, commuting via motorcycle to his studio in Venice.

Thirty-six years have passed since Guy moved here, and he has long since become an Ojai institution. The girls grew up and moved away, but he and Leone remain. (No longer on Reeves Road, but still in the East End.) They have houses elsewhere and spend a fair amount of time on Martha’s Vineyard, but for Guy, Ojai is home.

 

ZEN, MOTORCYCLES, MAINTENANCE

Guy took a career victory lap in November 2014 when Insight Editions published “Big Shots: The Photography of Guy Webster,” which won much applause and several awards. But four months later he landed in the hospital for quadruple-bypass surgery. The operation on his heart was successful, but it triggered a stroke that put him in a wheelchair. No more tennis, no more golf, no more riding his motorcycles, no more taking photographs.

“But I can talk,” he says cheerfully.

He concedes that he wasn’t this chipper in the immediate aftermath of the stroke. Having led a charmed life for so long, he faced a difficult adjustment to his new reality.

“I was very depressed and angry, but I kind of thought that this was a lesson for me,” he says. “My life was so perfect from the cradle to the wheelchair. Now I had to learn how to live as an invalid.”

Not that he accepted that he would remain one. He made considerable progress toward recovery before a fall down some stairs put him back in the wheelchair. Now he is once again out of the chair and using a walker and progressing toward a cane. He hopes eventually to regain his ability to operate a camera, but he knows he may never again ride one of his bikes.

“It was like my church to get on a motorcycle and ride out into the wilderness,” he says. “To have it taken away was frightening.”

Guy says he relies on the Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment to help adjust himself to his new circumstances. He has given up his photography studio in Venice, and he continues to sell off his motorcycle collection. But he has his wife and his children and grandchildren and his many friends, and he is content.

“I’ve always had Buddhist leanings, all my life,” he says. “You have to make the little things in life just as important  as the big things.”

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Aerial view of downtown Ojai, courtesy of David Byrne/Focus Flight

Aerial view of downtown Ojai, courtesy of David Byrne/Focus Flight

Goode’s News Part II — Plans Emerge for Key Downtown Site

By Mark Lewis

When The Ojai Quarterly posted a story on Facebook about a new proposal to redevelop the school district’s downtown property, we evidently struck a nerve. The story (from our Summer 2015 issue) was shared on several Facebook community forums, generating long threads of commentary that added up to a Town Hall debate about the future of Ojai. The proposal comes from Eric Goode, a longtime East End homeowner and a high-profile New York hotelier, and his friend Jonas Svensson, an independent investor who lives west of the Arbolada. Their idea is to build a boutique hotel of 50 to 75 rooms somewhere on the 7.5-acre property, while preserving and repurposing the historic Ojai Elementary School buildings that currently house the district offices, Chaparral High School and Chaparral Auditorium. (The skate park and the park-and-ride lot would not be affected.)

Their plan is still in the formative stages and has not yet been presented to district officials, who in any case are not actively seeking proposals for developing the property. But the mere suggestion that a chic hotel might be planted in the heart of downtown Ojai dismayed some longtime residents.

“This would be another nail in the coffin,” Wendy Barr Franklin wrote on one Facebook thread. “A delight for those wanting a little Palm Springs closer to L.A. and a sad, sad day for the rest of us. I don’t expect a return to the good old days when we didn’t need a single stoplight but it’s disheartening to see my hometown disappearing one rock wall chunk at a time. And please don’t cite this as ‘progress’ unless you consider the inability to make a left turn onto Ojai Avenue progressive.”

The negative comments drew a vigorous rebuttal from Paul Leon, an Ojai native now in his third term as the mayor of Ontario. Leon is a regular visitor to Ojai, where his mother still lives, and he noted that many streets badly need repaving. To Leon, that indicates that the city is underfunded and needs the tax dollars new development projects would generate.

“I understand the desire to maintain the ‘old’ feel of Ojai, the town I grew up in, but there has to be some compromise,” Leon wrote on the same thread. “Ojai depends on tourism. That is the major industry there. It does no good to deny it; embrace it, and plan for a better way to capitalize on it … If you develop correctly and quickly, you can maintain your character while building your city’s income.”

That in turn drew a response from Craig Walker, who serves on Ojai’s Historic Preservation Commission.

“No one resents the tourists; we just don’t want tourism to dictate the character of our town,” Walker wrote on the same thread. “There has to be a balance … in favor of those who make their homes here. Especially since tourists come here because of our Ojai way of life.”

Walker cited the protracted struggle in the 1960s and ‘70s to prevent a proposed freeway from coming through the valley, as well as the activities of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, as examples of how the community has fought to retain its small-town flavor in the face of relentless development pressure.

“The people of Ojai have worked hard over the years to limit growth and preserve our quality of life,” he wrote.

As it happens, both Eric Goode and Jonas Svensson are supporters of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, and both say they like Ojai the way it is. But, echoing Leon, they contend that in preservation as in football, the best defense is a good offense. They pitch their hotel project as a pro-active move that would help to preserve the town’s ambience, by pre-empting outside developers who might some day swoop in and foist something inappropriate on the site.

But what would be appropriate for this site? The question is well worth asking, because the site is so big and so strategically placed that whatever is done with it will have a profound impact on Ojai’s future. It already looms large in Ojai’s past.

 

SCHOOL AS  JEWEL

“Growth” and “development” were things to be celebrated in the Ojai Valley of 1895, when the two-decade-old community found that it had outgrown its original one-room brick schoolhouse on Matilija Street. A new Nordhoff Grammar School was built that year at the corner of Ojai Avenue and North Montgomery Street – an imposing, two-story, wood-frame building comprising four classrooms and an auditorium, crowned by an impressive bell tower that loomed over the downtown business district.

For the next three decades, this was the most important building in town. Its Assembly Hall served the community as a dance hall, a theater, a concert hall and a place to hold meetings. It was where people came to vote on Election Day, and where they gathered at Christmastime to light the communal tree and watch Santa Claus pass out presents to the children. The Assembly Hall hosted the town’s first Roman Catholic services and its first motion picture show. It was the epicenter of village life.

But by 1927, the town had once again outgrown its grammar school. The school district jacked up the old one and moved it out of the way, and hired the distinguished Santa Paula architect Roy Wilson to design a new, Mission Revival-style school on the same site. The old school was retained for its Assembly Hall until 1937, when a new auditorium was completed and the 1895 building finally was demolished. All that remained of it was its bell, which was transferred to the new school’s bell tower.

The new, Mission-style auditorium also was designed by Roy Wilson, who was a busy man in those days. He also designed a new building for the San Antonio School on Carne Road, and a new Mission-style campus for Nordhoff High School on El Paseo Road. All are still in use today. (The former high school campus now houses Matilija Junior High School.) Wilson also designed Bill Baker’s Bakery, directly across the street from the downtown grammar school. Today, the former bakery is a restaurant called Azu, where people sit and gaze across Ojai Avenue at Wilson’s 1937 auditorium, unaware that both buildings were designed by the same architect at roughly the same time.

In 1953, Nordhoff Grammar School changed its name to Ojai Elementary School. In 1954, due to seismic safety concerns, its bellfry was removed, and the old bell was placed on display in front of the building, where it remains today. But Ojai Elementary School is long gone; it closed in 1976. The building’s North Montgomery Street wing now houses Chaparral High School, an alternative program for at-risk students. Its Ojai Avenue frontage became the Ojai Unified School District offices, including the boardroom where the property’s ultimate fate may be decided.

 

CHANGE COMES TO OJAI

School enrollment in Ojai has plummeted since the ‘90s, putting financial pressure on the district. Its downtown property is potentially of great value to a developer, so the district from time to time has contemplated various ways of cashing in on it. The current board is not interested in selling the property, but has left the door open to possibly signing a long-term lease, if a developer were to come forward with a compelling concept that would significantly boost the district’s income.

Cue Eric Goode and Jonas Svensson, who revealed their interest in the property in June. But they have not yet made a formal proposal. Meanwhile, the City Council has expressed interest in designating the former Ojai Elementary School a historic landmark, which might further complicate the redevelopment process. The school board is wary of the city’s idea, but whether the building is landmarked or not, it could not be redeveloped without the city’s cooperation.

“Our plan is to continue to meet with people who want to hear about our thoughts for the site, as well as engage with people from both the city and the school board,” Svensson told the OQ. “What we currently are working on is to prepare for the formal process we have to go through to realize the project, and planning to find a constructive way to engage with the community to get input and ideas that could be useful.”

In that spirit, the OQ conducted an informal and unscientific survey to see what ideas might be out there. Among the more popular suggestions: affordable housing, a retirement community, a performing arts center, a community swimming pool, and a bowling alley.

Some people say they would welcome another townhouse-style condo development, like Los Arboles on South Montgomery Street. Others cringe at the thought of another upscale condo cluster.

Marc Whitman, the architect who designed Los Arboles, favors a different approach for the school district property. He sees it as the site of an “artists village,” perhaps along the lines of the Working Artists Ventura project in Ventura, where market-rate condos support affordable living and working spaces for artists.

“I also see an extension of the downtown commercial district in that location with shops, restaurants and things for people to do, such as art and music studios,” Whitman told the OQ. “The existing courtyard could be made into a European style courtyard surrounded by restaurants and music venues. In other words, it could be a great epicenter of creative activities in our downtown that could enhance our lives and make Ojai the richer for it.”

A similar idea was offered by Hallie Katz, co-owner of the Human Arts Gallery in the Arcade. She points to the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va., which is an old munitions factory repurposed into a complex of working artists’ studios and galleries. Why not do something similar with the former Ojai Elementary School buildings?

“Man, that would be cool,” Katz says.

Despite all those negative comments on Facebook, many people would welcome a boutique hotel on that site — especially one created by Eric Goode, who is known for developing well-designed projects like New York’s chic Bowery Hotel.

Steve Edelson, who owns the Ranch House restaurant and other Ojai Valley properties, says he supports Goode’s project. In fact, Edelson says, he would support just about any development proposal for the school district site.

“There is a growing demand for retail and housing here in beautiful Ojai,” he says. “History has shown over and over that restricting growth only leads to prices that exclude the lower and middle class, and herein  Ojai we need to be accessible to all. It seems wrong that you should have to have enough money to stay at the Ojai Valley Inn or afford a million dollar house to be here.”

To Ojai resident Cindy Convery, however, the Goode-Svensson project might compromise the town’s viability as a small-town community where people still feel connected to their neighbors. She fears that a successful hotel on that site might push Ojai past the tipping point on its way to joining Carmel, Solvang and Sedona as communities that have sold their souls to the tourist industry.

“Even a small hotel, say 75 rooms, means about 150 tourists per night on one of the already busiest corners in town,” Convery says. “Plus the 75 or so employees. Good for that business? Sure. Good for a real town where we have perhaps one of the last connected communities in Southern California? No way.”

Instead of leasing the downtown site for a hotel, she says, the school district should rededicate it to serve the public, “with a wonderful and affordable community preschool for qualified families, after-school programs and maybe an indoor farmers market on Wednesday afternoons in the auditorium. Keep Ojai a town, not a money machine.”

Money of course remains a long-term issue for the school district, which is why this valuable property may yet be put in play. And that would be a good thing for Ojai, says Nicholas Deitch of Mainstreet Architects in Ventura.

About seven years ago, Deitch worked on a preliminary proposal for this same site that was similar to the Goode-Svensson plan, in that it too involved a boutique hotel. The school board did not embrace that earlier plan, and it may or may not embrace a Goode-Svensson proposal. But at least Goode and Svensson have reopened the conversation about what might be done with the property – 7.5 acres of prime real estate that Deitch describes as “sitting just about at Ground Zero in downtown Ojai.”

“Those kinds of parcels represent a huge opportunity for the community,” he says, because they provide a rare chance to define the future in one fell swoop.

“The reality is that there is no such thing as a ‘no change’ option,” Deitch says. “Things are going to change.”

The choice, he says, is to try to control the process, or to just let it happen.

Which brings us back to Mayor Paul Leon of Ontario, who attended Ojai Elementary School in the ‘60s and whose name is inscribed in concrete near the old school bell on display outside the district offices.

The Ojai he grew up with is gone, he says, but the Ojai of the future is still up for grabs.

“Get creative,” Leon wrote on that Facebook thread. “Set a vision. Protect your way of life for the future of Ojai. It can be done right.”

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Fall OQ Has Arrived

 

Photo by Guy Webster

Photo by Guy Webster

Just in time for August’s final weekend, the Fall OQ has hit local newstands.

The latest iteration of Ojai’s local magazine is jam-packed full of features from our finest writers and photographers. We draw your attention especially to Mark Lewis’ followup to his Summer issue article on hotelier and conservationist Eric Goode’s plans for the school district HQ. The proposal for the 7.5 acres has sparked spirited debate – not only about the downtown parcel, but about the future of Ojai.

Anca Colbert’s profile of pencil artist Jeff Mann also touches on his glorious Hollywood career, as the go-to production designer who has created the looks of such masterpieces as “Star Wars.” And Jesse Phelps delves into the secret recipes of success of three local restaurants who turn 30 this year.

Look for this issue out this weekend in and around town. Or you can download the entire magazine at theojai.net. Spread the word.

Ruth Denison, Buddhist and Meditation Pioneer

Ruth Denison, Buddhist and Meditation Pioneer

Local Artist Participating in Project About Meditation Pioneer

Local artist Attasalina Dews is participating in an important project, “The Silent Dance of Life,” about the pioneering life of Ruth Denison, who just passed away this year at the age of 93. Dews and other directors are seeking crowdsourced funding.

Please enjoy the trailer and support the project at :

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ruth-denison-the-silent-dance-of-life

or http://bit.ly/15BOUYZ

Crowd funding ends March 23rd

 

SHAPING THE FACE OF BUDDHISM IN THE WEST 

Ruth Denison, Women and the Mindfulness Revolution 

In 1976, Ruth Denison took a trip to the high desert in Southern California. While camping near Pioneer Town, she rescued a family of baby opossums’ who were clinging to their mother who had ceased living. Compassionate to all creatures in suffering, Ruth had a very grounded view of right action and right thought. She did not stand for “bullshit” or sit with it for that matter. She was riding the waves of giants and she wanted for everyone to gain the capacity to see from this point of view.

That trip sowed the fateful seed that grew to become the Vipassana Meditation Retreat known as Dhamma Dena in Joshua Tree, Ca. Ruth Denison was among the very first western women authorized by an Asian meditation master to teach. Her mentor, U Ba Khin, had a strong inclination to bring the practice of Vipassana to the Western community. Spreading a discipline of mindfulness grounded in practicing awareness of one’s breath, body and thought as a means to access the ability to tranquilly observe one’s experience.

Ruth’s meditation teaches many things, but it particular, she taught people to understand or at least to acknowledge what they were experiencing within themselves. Rather than always looking away as our eyes are prone to do, Mindfulness is a practice of also turning the view inward. Learning to see inside as easily as we believe we see the outside.

Ruth Denison was quite a groundbreaker for women and was the first Buddhist teacher to create women’s meditation retreats back in 1980. She was working very successfully with traumatized people thirty years before trauma therapy became popularized. Forty years ago, when meditation was only sitting and walking, Ruth was combining movement, dance, music and mindful eating with the traditional model of mindfulness practice. Ruth´s innovations were not widely accepted or understood at the time, but have since become adopted by the vast majority of western Buddhist retreat centers.

Born in Germany in 1922, then Ruth Schäfer, came of age during World War II and experienced the horrors of the war first hand. In 1957, she immigrated to the United States and found herself in Los Angeles, California in the midst what was fast becoming the flower power movement. Together with her husband Henry Denison who was of the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism, Ruth associated with many artists, intellectuals and Buddhist teachers who were looking for new forms of expression – a “new consciousness”.

 

They frequently hosted luminaries in their home in the Hollywood hills, including Aldous and Laura Huxley, Alan Watts, Charlotte Selver, Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Lama Govinda and Anaiis Nin among many others. After years of practicing meditation and traveling around the world to meet masters first hand, in 1971 Ruth was authorized by her teacher Burmese master U Ba Khin becoming one of the first female Buddhist teachers in the Western world – now famous for her innovative and “feminine” approach.

“You are a pioneer of Buddhism in the West!” proclaimed celebrated meditation teacher and author, Jack Kornfield. Ruth Denison has always been a colorful yet humble character. Though highly acclaimed within the community of Buddhism, she was passionate about one thing only, the Dhamma. Her last words about her life were, “I am glad that I dedicated my life to the Dhamma. It is a good life and a good way to be, I am glad that I dedicated my life to helping people.”

Ruth Denison passed away just last month at the age of 93. “The Silent Dance of Life”, the first feature length documentary on Ruth Denison, is currently crowd-funding. During the past four years, director and producer Aleksandra Kumorek accompanied Ruth at her center in the Mojave desert, capturing more than 100 hours of unique footage. The completed project will yield a remarkable portrait of one the unique women teachers of our time as well as an online-archive with many hours of exclusive videos and materials including Ruth Denison´s formal and informal Dharma talks, ceremonies, rituals and guided meditations.

The project, if successful, will contribute an exceedingly meaningful body of knowledge and experience to the meditation community as well as to the greater scope of human kind and meaning in the twenty-first century.

Please enjoy the trailer and support the project at :

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ruth-denison-the-silent-dance-of-life

or http://bit.ly/15BOUYZ

Crowd funding ends March 23rd

Video embed code:

<iframe src=”https://www.indiegogo.com/project/ruth-denison-the-silent-dance-of-life/embedded” width=”222px” height=”445px” frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”></iframe>

141222_contest-690Congratulations to Ojai resident Sandy Treadwell for winning the highly competitive and esteemed New Yorker caption contest.

Treadwell’s “I faked my applause” beat out “How are you going to spin this?” and”I don’t support that position” for first place among 22,000 entries.

Previous local finalists include Peter Fox from several years ago.

http://contest.newyorker.com/CaptionContest.aspx?tab=winner

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McDowell, Unchained

Malcolm McDowell, with old friend and interrogator Peter Bellwood

Malcolm McDowell, with old friend and interrogator Peter Bellwood

Peter Bellwood’s quirky, brilliant talk with Ojai’s favorite villain

Malcolm McDowell: What are we waiting for? You clown! You can’t figure it out!

Peter Bellwood: Yes, I can. We’re on. Peter Bellwood here, interviewing Malcolm McDowell in bright sunshine, overlooking a golf course …

McD:  Shouldn’t you turn that thing on?

B: Right. (clicks on tape recorder)

Er … how are you?

McD: Extremely well.

B: I’m happy to hear it. And you’re between jobs at the moment?

McD: Is that a delicate way of asking, ‘Are you out of work?’

B: Yes.

McD: I am, as a matter of fact.

B: Something’ll turn up. Incidentally, your CV’s amazing, goes on for 4 pages!

McD: It just means I work a lot, which doesn’t necessarily cover the quality of the work …

B: But your integrity was never compromised, of course.

McD: No, no … I mean, I’ve got kids, I can’t afford to retire!  They’re great kids, all five of them. My sons with Kelley — Beckett, Seamus and Finn. And Lily and Charlie, who were also brought up in this valley, I’m happy to say.

B: When did you move to Ojai?

McD: 1982. I got a call from Guy Webster, who knew I was looking for a ranch. This is when I was married to Mary Steenburgen, and Guy mentioned Ojai. As an Englishman, I mistook what he said for ‘Ohio,’ which I thought was too far away, so when he called to say there was a piece of land and I should drive up and have a look, the Ohio confusion was sorted and I went up and checked it out. There was nothing on it. It was a cattle ranch, I think, which had one of the last groves of live oaks in Southern California, I was told. So I put in an offer that same day, and later we built a barn, a huge barn.

B: Why did you move from LA?

McD: We just wanted to give our kids a happy childhood in a beautiful place. It’s a different kind of existence. There’s nothing wrong, bringing children up in LA. It has some incredible schools … And L.A. has other wonderful attributes of which I like to partain, like trying out new restaurants. But the traffic …

B: ‘Partake,’ I think you mean.

McD: ‘Partake,’ sorry. Not ‘partain.’ Thank you. Actually, I’ve made up a new word which encompasses both of them.

B: You and Steve Sprinkel both — !

McD: So, once I’d partained —

B: And you’d never heard of Ojai before?

McD: No. And, you know, when you drive into this valley, it’s like a great weight’s lifted off your shoulders. I still feel that. We’ve got a few tricky ways of getting to L.A. One of them’s Pacific Coast Highway. You drive south on empty PCH (except in rush hour), no high-rises, spectacular views of the ocean, gamboling dolphins. Can you imagine that, if it was in the south of France? It would be ruined, hideous high-rises, ghastly architecture. Somehow, they’ve managed to keep it under control.

B: Malibu fights that battle all the time. Edge from U2 wants to build some gigantic place on top of the Santa Monica Mountains.

McD: Did you bring that up to show how hip you are to the current scene?

B: U2’s been around forever, Malcolm. And you do realize it’s been 50-odd years since the Beatles?

McD: When I lived in Liverpool, I strolled into The Cavern one night and heard them. That was before Ringo, who started out with a band called Rory Storm & The Hurricanes. The Beatles changed the landscape for all of us. Early on, you know, they didn’t sing their own stuff.

B: They loved American blues —

McD: And Liverpool being a port — I can’t remember if it was a cousin of John’s or Paul’s, was a steward on the Canadian-Pacific ships, and he brought Chuck Berry records and other stuff over from the States, and that’s when they first heard it … Anyway, Guy did me a great favor, getting me up here. The whole family, in fact. And I haven’t left this valley since.

B: You meet a better class of Englishman up here, too.

McD: Really? I must’ve missed that. We’ve known each other since ‘69 in southern Spain, haven’t we? Granada, where I was doing that Joe Losey film, “Figures In A Landscape…”

B: With Robert Shaw.

McD: Right. And you’d come over to brown-nose him.

B: I don’t like that. Brown-nose. It’s disgusting. I was there with director Onna White to sign him for a Broadway musical I’d written based on Sinclair Lewis’ “Elmer Gantry.”

McD: Obviously it worked. Your brown-nosing was a complete success!

B:Yeah, but later it became clear Robert couldn’t sing. Getting back to your movie, I remember one day, I was on a hill next to Losey and his cameraman, who was setting up a shot. You and Robert were far off down a gully, hands tied behind your backs, chopper pilot hovering overhead, waiting for his cue — and suddenly you started leaping about and yelling.

McD: Yeah. The shot before, I’d had to throw up, and we’d faked it with lots of Campbell’s Farmhouse soup. Some of it was still stuck to my lip. And a bumble bee landed on my mouth and stung me, which immediately sent me into a flying trapeze act. I couldn’t do anything because my hands were tied. I was even bashing my head against the rocks — I couldn’t get it off!

B: Losey had no idea …

McD: No, and Robert was laughing his ass off — as was his wont — and I was carted away to hospital.

B: Amazing you remember all this.

McD: Well, my memory’s not so bad.

B: I’ve always been impressed how you can learn so many lines. Way back, I was the lead in my daughter Lucy’s play, “The Paper Castle,” and learning it was torture. Brilliant performance, though, I think you’ll agree.

McD: Was it? I don’t remember. It’s just practice over the years, learning lines. And in a movie, of course, you have to know it so well you forget about it, it has to be instinctive. Sometimes, that instinct fails, and you go, ‘Where am I?’

B: Years ago, an English actor named A.E. Matthews, still working in his 90s, was in this play. A phone rings onstage which he’s supposed to answer. And the instant he picks it up, he forgets his line. So he turns to the actor nearest him, holds out the receiver and says “It’s for you”! There must’ve been times, though, where you could just smoothly move into improvising.

McD: I love improvising. I’d rather do that, anyway. Of course, a lot of writers don’t like that — do you?! I must say, I’m impressed you’re not looking at notes, doing it off the top of your head. Second nature to you, right? You do it all the time.

B: It’s just a conversation. D’you have a particular memory of “A Clockwork Orange?” It was a defining movie for you.

McD: Well, I think before Clockwork, there hadn’t been an anti-hero in a movie who was immoral. The only one I can recall is Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” So in a way we were breaking new ground. We didn’t think about that, we just did it … working spontaneously. Even if you’re improvising, you’ve got to memorize the text.

B: How old were you when you did that movie?

McD: 25.

B: How soon after “If?”

McD: 2 years or so. In some ways, “If” was a better movie than “Clockwork.” Lindsay Anderson was an incredible director. I began with the best.

B: After “Clockwork, “you did “O, Lucky Man?”

McD: Yes.

B: Had you started writing it?

McD: Way before, after “If” opened ­— which by the way won the Grand Prize at Cannes.

B: And you were living in London?

McD: Yes. I left Liverpool when I was 19, went off to rep, the Royal Shakespeare Company — it took me four years to get a film. Of course, it seemed like forever.

B: You were in Bridlington on the Yorkshire coast, when I was 20 miles north, in Scarborough.

McD: My father was in the RAF, in Bomber Command, he was a navigator, he flew out of Driffield. So my mother and her sister, my aunt, took over a small hotel — very “Fawlty Towers” — and had deposed Polish Army generals staying there, and everything was on the black market, fantastic! I was born in Leeds, moved when I was 6 weeks old to Bridlington, and lived there till I was 6. Then on to Liverpool, my father running a pub or hotel, and that’s the way it was.

B: What was his name?

McD: Charles Thomas Taylor. Tom Taylor.

B: And you changed your name because there already was a Taylor working as an actor.

McD: Yeah … the bugger! And what really pissed me off was that he gave up acting after a year, but it was too late ­— I’d already switched to my mother’s maiden name. My father never forgave me …

B: So what brought you to America?

McD: I came over to do this movie, “Time After Time.” I fell in love with Mary in San Francisco, she was my co-star, so I just moved my whole operation here. We lived in New York, I remember, because I went off to do “Look Back In Anger” at the Roundabout Theater. We got married in New York, actually, and that’s where Lily was born. Mary had subsequently done “Melvin & Howard,” for which she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Great movie, directed by Jonathan Demme, Jason Robards as Howard Hughes, what an actor. Then back to the Coast.

B: Were you as star-struck as I was when I first got to L.A? I was driving about in a daze … Sunset Boulevard, Malibu …

McD: Oh, God, yes! I think every Englishman who gets out here goes through that. If you live in England and love movies, Hollywood’s where your imagination goes to, and when you saw “Singin’ In The Rain,” I defy anybody not to come out and start dancing down the street with an umbrella!

B: I always wanted to live in America.

McD: Americans to me have always been a very generous people. Open, warm, friendly. The opposite of the southern English — closed, miserable, uptight, emotionally constipated.

B: Apart from that, absolute sweeties! Why were you attracted to Ojai?

McD: Well, I love small towns. I love beautiful small towns. It’s the one place I can come, I’ve got friends here, I’m just not bugged, you know? I can stroll around, be anonymous, do what I want to do …

B: People must recognize you, though.

McD: Yeah, they do, but they’re respectful, friendly, laid-back. There’s a sort of vibe I feel that this is probably what L.A. was like back in the ‘20s. I remember having an old studio driver, we were cruising down Sunset, and he said, ‘You know, when I first started, these were all orange groves.’ The history of LA’s so amazing — the discovery of oil and the start of the film business as we know it. There’ve always been English movie stars here. The first great one was Charlie Chaplin. And I used to love visiting long-gone places like the Brown Derby. Now, I’ve got three small boys with my wife, Kelley, who’s a wonderful designer. She’s done eight houses in Ojai, and they’re all pretty special. Two of them have movie stars living in them right now. This one we’re in’s her real masterpiece, we’ll have it finished by next year, pool and everything. All re-done in the old Spanish style. Another thing about Ojai — it’s very driveable down to LAX, hour-and-a-half or so. Of course, traffic’s a problem. I hate traffic. I’d rather have my teeth pulled out by wild horses.

B: Or have a root-canal. You’re having one today, you said.

McD: Thanks for reminding me — you bastard!

B: Let’s talk about your passion for golf instead.

McD: Golf is great. I’m not saying I’m an ace golfer …

B: You’re a helluva long hitter, I’ve seen you do it.

McD: Yeah, but I got to golf rather late in life. I do love it, and I love to play with the boys. They love it, too. It’s such a magical course, the Ojai Valley Inn, built by George Thomas, a Scot who came over. He built Riviera, L.A. Country Club, some of the finest courses in Southern California. Also, one of the great golf writers lives here — Mark Frost, author of “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” and a biography of Bobby Jones.

B: You were in a golf movie, weren’t you?

McD: “Stroke Of Genius,” yeah. And “Golf In The Kingdom.”

B: So what’s up next?

McD: “Mozart In The Jungle,” Amazon Studios series. Sex, drugs and symphony in the world of New York classical musicians — great stuff! And I’m working on producing and starring in a film, “Monster Butler.” It’s like “A Clockwork Orange” forty years on, based on this real-life English butler to the toffs who was a con man and serial killer. Smart, charismatic, larger than life — and a complete nutter. Sings “Big Spender” in prison in full drag as the convicts whistle … Gary Oldman loves the script, wants to play my buddy, Wiggy — a taxidermist with “anger issues.”  It’s dark, funny, scary, outrageous.

B: And who wrote this immortal work?

McD: I dunno. Some hack called Bellwood …

B: Thank you so much!

McD: We’re raising money right now, so we’ll see …

(Long pause. Birds twittering. Heat rising)

McD: Well, I think we’ve had enough, haven’t we — ?

B: I certainly have. I’d like to thank you for your patience, your style and your general McDowelly demeanor. It’s been fun.

McD: And I’d like to thank you. You’re a dear friend, a great writer — I suppose you can never hear that too often — and a thoroughly decent chap.

B: Obviously you’re a man of taste and perception.

McD: Actually, I was talking about myself.

B: You usually are. Can I have your autograph?

McD: No.

Nic Pizzolatto, center, with "True Detective" stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey.

Nic Pizzolatto, center, with “True Detective” stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey.

Few recent shows have made a lasting impression so quickly as “True Detective.” The police psychodrama, with star turns by Matthew McConaughey as troubled detective Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson as his beleaguered partner Marty Hart, drew 12 Emmy nominations, including best actor nods for both leads, along with best dramatic series and an outstanding writing credit for creator Nic Pizzolatto.

The show’s dark atmosphere and hyperverbal dialogue have earned it devoted fans, and earned Pizzolatto a reputation as a rising force of sharp writing and intriguing plots. He has built a place where Schopenhauer, Cormac McCarthy and H.P. Lovecraft meet police procedurals, and where humanity itself is the prime suspect.

The show will return to HBO next spring with another eight episodes, though with an entirely different cast and directors. Casting for Season Two has been daily star-studded grist for the rumor mill. While many A-list names have been bandied about, none have been confirmed as of press time. This we do know. The series will be “set in California, not Los Angeles. Viewers should expect a very strict character point-of-view, and a similar aesthetic, genre and authorial voice as Season One,” said Pizzolatto, who has called Ojai home for nearly three years.

Pizzolatto is also the author of the novel “Galveston,” a finalist for an Edgar Award as best mystery novel. The film version will start shooting in October with actor Matthias Schoenarts, the Belgian star of “Bullhead” and “Rust and Bone” as the lead.

The OQ interviewed Pizzolatto in person and by email. Here’s a few excerpts from our wide-ranging discussion.

OQ: Let’s begin at the ending. As a viewer, the final scene of season one of “True Detective” felt like a gut punch. Visceral.  It was so unexpected, and yet, upon further reflection, it seems as if all eight episodes were leading up to it. Was that the ending you had in mind from the start, or did the characters reveal it to you as you were writing?

NP: The story was built toward that ending, and it was the one that was always intended. I think it’s important to have an ending in mind, and that it’s just as important to be fluid and willing to change your ending if characters and circumstance dictate something other. To begin a difficult journey with no destination in mind seems fairly foolish to me. The ending returns us to the intimate depiction of a character relationship which has been the entire subject of the season, while refining the various juxtapositions and mirror-reflections that layer the series into their most fundamental binary incarnation: dark versus light.

OQ: Ojai has long been a retreat for writers. Writer Mark Lewis made a persuasive case that Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” was influenced by his stay in Ojai, for example. Authors Christopher Isherwood, Aldous Huxley and Bertolt Brecht wrote some of their major works here. Blacklisted screenwriters Dalton Trumbo and Michael Wilson wrote epic films like “Spartacus” and “Lawrence of Arabia” at least in part while living in Ojai.

What all these very different works share is that they are deeply human. The characters, even the antagonists, have depth and complexity. So the question is, do you find that “far from the madding crowds,” with its endless distractions, you can tap into something universal about the human experience. Has it helped your writing — its depth and flow?

NP: I love it here. I need nature and sunlight, and I don’t like crowds or feeling fenced, can’t stand congestion. I like open space, peaceful routine. The calmer and more regulated my life is, the more I’m free to indulge myself and go wild on the page. You can really adjust your reality here, and I prefer the pace of life as opposed to the pace of business. I haven’t done great in cities, traditionally. Paris strikes me as the only city in which I could conceivably be happy and at peace for any length of time. It seems like writers have always sought retreats — peaceful, bucolic settings with a contemplative rhythm that’s in tune with the natural order. There’s a number of them in our country, and writers flock to them. So maybe it’s the same urge; I just live in my writer’s retreat.

OQ: Is it a challenge to write with such great familiarity with the darkness, while living in this beautiful place with all this glorious sunshine? I’m reminded of that Spanish aphorism, “La mejor parte del sol es una la sombre.” The best part of the sun is in the shade.

NP: I don’t find it hard at all, to tell you the truth. Which perhaps speaks more to the specific nature of my imagination than anything else. The inner darkness of certain knowledge never goes away, and the brightness of a light correlates to the darkness of its shade, so even metaphorically, it’s fine. Perhaps it can be a good idea to work in juxtaposition to one’s surroundings. Or maybe the peace and tranquility free the mind to go places it would ordinarily not be open to imagining.

OQ: Does that particular ending, that optimistic note, give us clues to the next season? Or will we be back in the dark and delicious murk this coming season?

NP: The optimistic note at the end is extremely cautious. Maybe even false, given that the historical perpetrators of the crimes from which (serial killer) Childress resulted and which he was enacting are all free from prosecution.

In “True Detective,” the world is the crime. That’s why the level of texture and attention to detail. Characters exist against the backdrop of a malignant universe, and yet that universe, that world is a reflection of those characters, and they are a reflection of it. And at the end of the day, you don’t beat the world.

The show suggests a poisoned garden, but the root of the poison is humanity. We corrupted the world, it’s suggesting, and now we live in the ruins of our fall, in a place where perfidy can enter every crack of our lives like smoke. These characters are a coagulation of historical culture and crimes.

So [McConaughey’s character Rust)] Cohle’s cautious optimism is no more valid, and perhaps less valid, than Cohle’s pessimism. It is only important for the character that his perspective widened enough to admit the unknowing, and the potential of love. The character earned that. Certainly he didn’t find anything like ‘god’ or ‘heaven’ — he just remembered the experience of love, and so was able, finally, to unleash the pure grief which sat at the heart of his hard-boiled pessimism. The stars are fading, too, at the end.

That’s a long way of saying, ‘optimism’ is a little strong. And Season Two will involve the dark and murky parts of human character and civilization, but still with the possibility of redemption and, I hope, humor.

OQ:  The show became part of the national conversation quickly (President Obama is among “True Detective” fans, for example.) How does that feel as a writer to know you’ve entered, even helped create, this zeitgeist?

NP: I don’t know, really. I don’t know how true any of that is, although it’s very flattering. I’m not online much, and I have trouble calling what I find there ‘conversation.’ Definitely don’t read blogs and only take my news from a couple places. Add to that that I don’t live in L.A., but in a small town in the mountains, and it hasn’t been difficult to escape the noise. I’ve been kind of a recluse, too, just enjoying my family and working, so my day-to-day reality hasn’t had much to do with the show or people’s reactions to it. But I and every artist I respect just want to keep doing our work, and whatever noise it creates isn’t really our province.

OQ: Any future collaborations with Matt McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the works?

NP: Matthew and I are going to be working together in the future, we just haven’t decided on what. But that is definitely a relationship to keep active — he’s a good muse for me, and I really like working with the guy. So I’d bet you see the two of us together at some point.

And I’d work with Woody anytime, of course. I have a one-man play I want to do with Woody one day.

OQ: Any anecdotes about working with them that you can share?

NP: Plenty of anecdotes. None to share. That’s what friendships are for.

OQ: Do you see your role as a showrunner along the lines of Matthew Weiner (“Mad Men”) with meticulous attention to detail, or more of a David Milch (“Deadwood”) type, who focuses on great writing and so lets the memorable characters emerge from that?

NP: That doesn’t describe Milch, who is as attentive to detail as any TV creator in history; and Milch works closely with actors on set, which not all showrunners do. My role is as the overall voice, vision and decider. I was on set the entire time, worked closely with the actors on set, had approval over every creative decision, including casting and the hiring of [Season One director)] Cary [Fukanaga], and I took my own edits. The writing of the scripts actually represents maybe 30 percent of my total work on the series. So the only word I think for it is “showrunner,” but without a writer’s room.

OQ: Who are your influences or people who you respect in the business? Screenwriters, genre writers, directors, actors?

NP: In television it’s Dennis Potter (“Singing Detective”) more than anyone, and I have an intense respect for David Milch and a love for all his work.

OQ: What do you find compelling about Dennis Potter? (I’ll bet Michael Gambon hasn’t had so much fun before or since “The Singing Detective.”) Potter was definitely not afraid to mix things up. Is that what you identify with? Can we expect to see you break the 4th wall in future seasons of “True Detective?”

NP: The uniqueness and uncompromising nature of his vision is very compelling to me; his work is as personal and layered as any great novelist’s, these psychosexual melodramas full of such human pathos and love. He broke open what television can do and created works that are only at their most effective as serialized television, and he was a great writer in many forms, not just television, but he made this populist art for the most inclusive medium there is.

OQ: Some call this the “Golden Age of Television.” But doesn’t it seem like those things can only be judged in retrospect? By the time our cultural awareness catches up with the moment, it’s passed?

NP: No idea. I don’t know about Ages of anything, but I think television is on average far better and smarter than movies right now.

OQ: Do you ever see us going back to the tepid five-camera sitcoms of “Happy Days?” Or is television now and in the future the metiér of choice for our best and brightest talents?

NP: I think television is the place to be if you’re a writer-producer, absolutely. It’s an auteur medium for storytellers. I’ll be honest, I’d love to do a series set in a closed set with just a couple cameras. I know just what it would be. But I can’t see the future, and I can’t even guess how long television and film have left as viable mediums for artists.

OQ: Any new projects you can talk about?

NP: “True Detective” is taking up all my bandwidth right now. But there’s at least a few more shows I’d like to make, and a couple films I’d like to make. Whether I get to do any of that is, of course, unknown. But lots of stories to tell, lots of characters to portray.

Photo by Nathalie Raijmakers Photography

 

ATTASALINA  — Making Sound & Images

Attasalina  is the quintessential Ojai artist.  Through music and photography she has been a great influence on the art scene in Ojai.

After a 2-year hiatus she is now preparing to return to performing. We sat down Sunday morning and had a conversation over coffee in a very novel way these days – we talked on the telephone!

We recorded the interview for the second in a series I call Ojai Underground. If the link doesn’t open, cut and paste into your browser window.

You can find out more about Attasalina’s upcoming events at attasalina.com.  And check out these links….

 

Desert Stars Festival 2014

Album Cover Art by Attasalina Dews

Album Cover Art by Attasalina Dews

By Demitri Corbin

“I like my head empty, man!  I like my belly full and my head empty!  So, I would write these words down but I never thought they were ART,” – Gary Lang
 
Gary Lang is a very busy man.  His exhibition, “Circles/Words” on display at Ace Gallery Beverly Hills is making him very popular and hard to pin down.  But with word that the exhibit has been extended he made special time for me to visit his art studio inside his home.  We sat poolside and drank our Starbucks coffee as we talked.DC: The show is extended…GL:  Yes.DC:   …until…GL:  The show is extended  ‘til the 27th of this month, May.  Well, we got so much press, they just…because of the press, because of the Los Angeles Times.  LA Times’ Dave Pagel described the show as the most beautiful place in all of Los Angeles.   That’s major.  I mean the attendance spiked.  Every day it spiked, three days in a row.

DC:  Wonderful.

GL:  That’s huge.   These are not people who are excessively or necessarily complimentary.

DC:  Well, I’m going to tell you what my friend Mona said.

GL:  She was lovely.

DC:  And I sent you an email of all the pictures so you can take a look at them…. what she said was, “the circles give off a vibration that trigger certain emotions.” That’s the first thing you had said to me years ago when you were telling me about your paintings.

GL:  That’s true.  She keyed right in.

DC:  She is empathic.

GL:  What does that mean?

DC:  She empathizes.  She feels things very strongly.

GL:   She was beautiful.  There was one picture (holding out his hands wide) that said it all.  I mean, that’s a good photograph.

DC:  So she went around and had a selfie-shoot with each piece throughout the gallery.  We have about 25 pictures.  It was fun going there and seeing a couple of other patrons to turn and see they big wheel but when you turn and see someone standing in front of it you see the perspective and it really is mind blowing .  You see the scale it and get close and see the detail of the brush strokes-

GL: And the heart, the love.

DC:  It really is cool.

GL  I was so touched to see you there.  It meant a lot to me.  I want to send you the L.A. Times.

DC:  I’ll look it up.  I want to see the studio

GL:  We can see the studio, it’s kind of a mess.  It’s kind of special.  I’ve been busy.  I’ve got a show in New York, a show in LA, a little project here, I’ve got a talk in Camarillo on Friday, and I leave for Colorado on Wednesday.

DC:  So, is this a high time?

GL:  Always a high time

DC:  It’s a beautiful gallery.  I want to talk particularly the word pictures.

GL:  Did you get into them?

DC:  We didn’t take pictures there.

GL: I’ll send you a bunch.

DC:  Two or three of them really appealed to me, one in particular.  You know how you look at a piece and something say, “that’s mine.”

GL:  With the words you mean?

DC:  Yes.

GL:  So, I did this word piece at this place called The Blackboard Gallery.  I wanted to transform the entire space into a poem, so I did this word piece all across the gallery, write across the wall. I invited a group of artists that I did not know previously, and gave each one a letter, a color, and a brush.  I’ll give a talk this Friday night, it’s called CI Arts/Studio Arts Channel Island.

DC:  So, do you get time to work with other people?

GL:  I do get time.  I make time.  I love people and you know, I don’t want to be one of those people who gets…uh…you know…I’m already isolated from the world living here.  And I’m with a gallery that is exclusive.  You can’t get my work anywhere else in the world other than from this place, Ace Gallery.  And everybody knows that.

He stops mid-sentence and speaks to his wife and fellow artist, Ruth Pastine, as she walks, two-fisted with coffee, towards the art studio.

GL:  Do you remember young and handsome Demitri?

DC:  Young and handsome?!  That’s great!

RP:  of course I do.  How are you, Demitri?

DC:  I’m good Ruth, how are you?

RP:  Good to see you!

DC:  Good to see you, too!

She disappears into her part of the studio.

GL:  Yeah, the words, you know, it’s not about me.  These are words-this is the stuff of people…Chance (his son) said to me when he was a tiny kid, he said, “I think all the people in the world are one family.”  And I said, “Shit kid, you got it.”

Our talk shifts to catching up on personal news, then good news and bad news and how it affects his work.

GL:  You know, I was working on this piece and I was listening to National Public Radio, NPR everyday with my mood – you know, I’m like a giant mood ring, you know, changes colors.  And I was listening to National Public Radio when Bush was looking for Weapons of Mass Destruction.  And my pallete was getting darker and darker and I realized if I didn’t turn that off (NPR) I’d have an eleven-foot black dot.  Seriously, I was taking on that much other worldly poison.

DC:  That brings me to when we first met and you told me how you came to Ojai.  You can tell me that story again.

GL:  I don’t even remember how I got here.  It just happened.  I think I had outlived my appetite for the tenor of ambition in Manhattan.  I mean I didn’t care anymore.  Seven cocktail parties a week for three decades.  And if you don’t outgrow that you start looking like a (px%#!)

DC:  (laughing) I don’t think I can write that.

GL:  You know, it’s just unappetizing, undignified.  I think at some point you have to stand outside yourself, your own ambitions and like Shakespeare says, “To be or not to be.”  And once you learn that, you can do it anywhere and I wanted to do it in a quiet place, calm place, because I had a little boy and a little girl on her way, so I wanted to get out of that kind the gravity of the market place and into a calm place of grandeur. This is good…this place is good.  Ojai is home.

GL:  I’ve planted a lot of trees since I’ve been here.  I built the studio.  I care dearly for everyone I’ve ever met here.  That’s all real, that’s a measure of success in itself.  When you feel love and concern for your community that’s a victory.  It’s not an egoistic victory, it’s a humanitarian victory, to care for  your neighbors.  You take on a maturity as you get older.  You go through a few wars and you start to see things a little differently.  You start to consider others more (laughs) out grow that narcissism of the city.

We chat on about the struggles of working as artists in New York and L.A.

GL:  One thing I love about being a painter is that you don’t need a budget and you don’t need a cast, or whatever it takes to get a movie done, it’s complex, bankers approval, etc., etc.  I can just take my brush, walk into my studio and start massaging pigments on surfaces and I’m in heaven.  I’m like a caveman, you know, I love it, though.  I walk across my own property, get up there … you know, I worry, I worry because it’s uncertain being an artist.  You don’t know from month to month whether you’re going to be living in Ojai or a trailer park in Indio!

DC:  Right!

GL:  That’s what I’m dealing with, that’s why my hair gets gray and thin.  And then there’s that.  I don’t want to talk about that.

DC:  You look great!

GL:  Ask Ruth!  She’s the whole barometer for this.  That’s the savage truth.  “You look terrible!”  Yeah, but Demitri says …”

We have a good laugh.

DC:  Do you ever collaborate on pieces?

GL:  Well, we don’t but we talk about absolutely everything, I mean I don’t have a better voice than Ruth, I mean, she’s my muse.  And it goes both ways.   Actually, here’s an interesting story when I first met Ruth I hired her to be my assistant.  She reminded me of my dad.  There was no bullshit, no entertainment, you could bank on it.  You knew what you were getting. No flirtation, just this is what it is.  So we’re working on this painting in Boca Raton, Florida in a gallery and they were making this movie.  We were painting a thirteen-foot circle on the wall of this gallery.  And we were just getting together, getting to know each other, we dug each and I got the movie afterwards.  I watched this movie, now this is two people doing a project, very complex project on the wall.  We never even spoke.  We were so in sync. it was like we’re moving like a German engineered car, everything’s perfect, seamless, no conversation.  So that was interesting for me to see.  We’re pretty good partners that way.  There is a downside to every partnership, there’s no way around it.  ‘Cause I think every person is two people, anyways.  So now you got four people dissecting everything.

DC:  That’s cool.  What else can we talk about?

GL:   The words.  Let me tell you about the words.  I started writing words in – I guess everybody’s going to know my age now – in the mid-seventies cause they’d get in my head.  And I’d, ‘shit, I don’t want those words in my head.’  So, I remember I had two friends in Spain, they said, “We remember you in the seventies, you’d get off the bus and you’d have all these words written all over your arms.”  Because I thought they were important.  Somehow I knew two things; I wanted them out of my head, I didn’t want them in my head.  I got enough – I like to keep my head empty-

DC:  Hmm, empty head?

GL:  Yeah!  That’s the way I like it!

We guffaw!

GL:  I like my head empty, man!  I like my belly full and my head empty!  So, I would write these words down but I never thought they were ART.  I just thought they were sort of, you know, therapy or some sort of mental compulsion, you know, but you ever see the movie, “Simple Minds,” with Russell Crowe?  I looked like that, you know that?  Walkin’ around like that in public.  But I thought the words were important and I thought that collecting words, just like you collect butterflies, money or whatever people collect – art – I just wanted to collect words I just – I like to look at the words and think about them and arrange them in sentences, cause they provide my mind a place to go.  It’s very interesting. Because I don’t paint images, I paint icons, what I consider to be sacred icons, or hypnotic icons.

DC:  That reminds me.  I posted a few of the pictures on Facebook and the responses , you know, you’re hearing from people you haven’t seen in twenty years and the responses, ‘dizzying,’ ‘hypnotic,’ people were really complimentary.

GL:  And they’re looking at an image ‘this big’ and you came in with Mona and you’re standing in front of a 13’ circle with your arms raised –

DC:  People were like, wow!  So, lots of compliments.

GL:  Well, thank you.  You know I’ll get, ‘Is he on drugs?’  I get that all the time.  And I’m used to it.

We laugh again.

GL:  But I’ve had people visit my studio, and they go and take one look and say, “Okay, I’m not goin’ there.”   That’s it.  They walk right out.

DC:  Really?

GL:  Yeah, because you gotta let go.  You gotta let go and you gotta take that ride and if you’re not confident, you’re not going for the ride.  Cause these things will really undo you.

DC:  It’s true!

GL:  People are afraid to jump.  But you gotta jump or you’re not living.  My dad taught me that.  I’d be worried and have lines in my forehead and he’d say, “Gary, jump.  You’ll land on your feet.  And I trusted him.  And I’ve been jumping ever since.  And I’ve landed on some rocks!  Hello! Yeah, this isn’t my…

DC:  First time around the rodeo?

GL:  Yeah, baby!

We laugh as Gary leads me to his art studio.

GL:  The studio is a mess because, as I told you, there are a lot of projects going on.

The studio actually is not a mess but very well organized with lots of projects going on.  I don’t bring people back here but because I adore you, we’re doing this.   This is my part of the studio.

DC:  Well, this is what I like; going into the artist’ mind.  This is where you do your thing.

He shows me marks across the top of the white walls.

GL:  Here, you see that big mark up there, you see what I used to do is literally pull the 13’ circle this way with my brush.  And eventually your shoulders go to hell, so now…

He shows me the 13’ circle canvas that spins on the wall like a giant lazy susan.

GL:  I devised this rotating mechanism.

DC:  Oh, my goodness!

We laugh.

GL: You want me to read you one.  I’m always full of words.  This one is about me just between you and I.  It says, “Filled with hell juice and the mermaids sing – sing, the poet competes with pornography. “  And that’s the truth.  You have your hell juice , you have your sirens, maddening sirens, and you come up with the truth.  Goddamn incredible.

DC:  You stay in here for hours and hours?

GL:  This is my domain, man.  This is my shelter from the storm.  This is where I live and, you know, the floor, it’s like a dance floor.  There are rubber pads underneath, cause I’m standing for hours a day.

And see, I have a mobile library here.

His library includes , Shakespeare, “The Joy of Life,” Marquis de Sade and Shakespeare’s “Poems and Sonnets.”  We move to the outside patio.

GL: …..this is a very special environment and I really love it.

DC:  Let’s see what you listen to.  Do you have a lot of jazz?

GL:  Yeah, actually I’ve got more jazz than anything else.  I don’t’ know what you’re going to see right now.

He opens one of three large file drawers filled with CDs.

GL:  What do you listen to?

DC:  I listen to jazz mostly, especially during creative times.

GL:  Yeah, I listen to jazz.  Jazz frees me, you see.  Lately though I find I only listen to all classical, almost exclusively, but I’ve got more jazz than anything.  You might like this guy, this guy is strange.  Antony and the Johnsons.  Never heard of him, huh?

DC:  No.

GL:  You know, he’s a transgender guy, so the singing is really…. You want to me to play one of his songs?  It ain’t jazz, it’s something else.

DC:  He looks like that girl in the hallway that no one wants to talk to.

GL:  He’s that guy but when he sings.

Gary puts on the CD and invites me to look around at the studio space; the paint, brushes, canvases, prints readied for shipping, and as I listen to the haunting music of Antony and the Johnsons, I feel a great appreciation for the artist and his muse and his creative space.

 

Gary Lang’s “Circles/Words” is on exhibition at Ace Gallery Beverly Hills.  Ace Gallery is located at 9430 Wilshire Blvd.  For more information visit www.acegallery.net.

Ojai Citrus Popup at Azu, April 19, 2-4:30 p.m.

Ojai Citrus Popup at Azu, April 19, 2-4:30 p.m.

Azu will host the Ojai Citrus Popup on Saturday, April 19 from 2 to 4:30 p.m.

This epicurean event will feature menu items more than two dozen items with citrus flavors.

For more information, check out Azu’s website, azuojai.com, or meal arianeaumont@gmail.com.