Hector Penalosa on My Revenge, Baja Bugs, The Zeros, and Save Music in Chinatown

The Zeros at The Troubadour (July 20, 2012)
The Zeros at The Troubadour (July 20, 2012)

My first contact with Hector Penalosa followed a double header at The Troubadour with The Zeros and The Muffs in 2012. After I posted a manic, raving review on my Giant Robot blog (R.I.P.), Hector did the unthinkable. He wrote a thank-you note. No one ever did that before and no one has ever done it since. Turns out not only was he in one of my all-time favorite bands but he is one of the nicest guys ever, too.

Hector and I became friends on social media after that, which was cool, but what was really awesome was how he liking, sharing, and promoting the Save Music in Chinatown project as soon as my wife and I started it. He even drove up from San Diego to attend the inaugural show and we’ve become friends in real life.

So of course I had to ask him to play our second show, and he brought The Baja Bugs. I have extremely limited knowledge of the Fab Four compared to the hardcore Beatlemaniacs out there but holy crap! The Baja Bugs play the Liverpudians’ catalog with the fire of a hungry and brilliant garage band loaded on uppers and riding the explosion of early rock ‘n’ roll. They also cranked out a blistering mini-set of My Revenge songs and I’m stoked that the latter will be playing our next benefit gig.

I had a short conversation with Hector about his bands and the Save Music in Chinatown cause to get us stoked for the show…

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My Revenge at Save Music in Chinatown 2 (February 9, 2014)

Can you tell me a little bit about My Revenge? How long has the band been together, what’s up with releases, and so on…
My Revenge is a band that I’ve had on the back burner for close to two years. I’ve been writing songs for many, many years, on and off, and I had accumulated quite a lot of songs. So I decided to expose them to the public. Naturally, I had to get a band together.

I have recordings of the songs we play, but I’m a bit of stickler when it comes to recording. But I am going to release a CD, as well as vinyl, plus the usual download access on the Internet.

Three of you are also in The Baja Bugs, who tore it up last year at a Save Music in Chinatown show. Can you remind me how you guys got together and describe your specific approach to the Beatles catalog? The era, the vibe…
The Baja Bugs are a Beatles cover band with rock ‘n’ roll muscle. It started out of frustration. Listening to to other Beatles cover bands and tribute bands, I realized that they were lacking energy in their performance. Technically, they have the musical parts down but there was no fire. That element is so essential to The Beatles’ music. Sure, they have ballads and mellow tunes. But for a live performance a band should focus on the “rock ‘n’ roll” Beatles. They were influenced by Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, and a few other guys who started and were rock ‘n’ roll! And The Baja Bugs love to play all the wild, uptempo, rocking Beatles tunes.

Baja Bugs at the San Diego Library (June 28, 2014)
Baja Bugs at the San Diego Library (June 28, 2014)

As a fan of your music, I was stoked when you started supporting Save Music in Chinatown on social media right from the beginning. What are some of your thoughts on music education?
Music education is just as important as math, English, and history lessons. Creativity and music tap into a part of our brain that otherwise would not be used. They create a different way of thinking–a positive development of the brain. But music education and the creative development of children in schools don’t seem to be a priority in the school systems any more.

I know that music changed my life for the better. It takes me to a happy place when I listen to it or play it. And it does the same for so many other people. And, yes, it is stimulating and fun!

The Zeros at Los Globos (August 16, 2014)
The Zeros at Los Globos (August 16, 2014)

Do you have fond memories of playing in Chinatown back in the days of early L.A. punk?
I do have lots of fond memories of playing in Chinatown. The Zeros played at Madame Wong’s back in 1979 with The Go-Go’s, if I recall correctly. Who would have expected punk rock in a Chinese bar back then, but it happened! The punk bands were looking for venues to play and the Chinese bar owners saw it as great business through selling drinks and charging a little money at the door. A win-win situation. We also played at The Hong Kong Cafe in 1994 and a few other times, too.

The Zeros are still in demand and seem to play fairly often these days. Do you ever step back and think, “Damn we wrote a lot of great songs when we were just children!
The Zeros do play once in a while. If the offer to do a gig seems right, we tend to play it. At the same time, we don’t want to overplay and burn out our audience. It makes the gigs a bit more special.

Regarding our songs, we don’t really ponder much on, “Hey, we wrote some cool songs when we were kids.” We wrote what we felt about what we saw around us at the time. We just made sure the songs were catchy and a bit tough with a dash of cool. To this day, we enjoy playing them! They’re still fun and to see and hear fans sing along with us here in the U.S., Spain, Tokyo, or elsewhere is a blast!

Los Globos (August 16, 2014)
Los Globos (August 16, 2014)

Do you remember when you made the transition from a kid who enjoys and listens to music to someone who makes it?
From listening to music to playing music was a slow transition. My dad is a musician, and when I was 5 or 6 I discovered his record collection on the bookshelves in the living room of our old house. I started playing The Supremes greatest hits collection, and was captivated by the snare drum on the recordings. My dad had a drum kit in the living room and I recall tapping the snare drum to the beat of the The Supremes.

That was just the beginning. My dad also had a piano but it looked complicated with so many notes and keys. Six years later, I discovered the guitar and seriously wanted to learn how to play it. Once The Beatles became a part of my life, I really wanted to become a guitarist and musician. I was 12 going on 13 by then, and I haven’t stopped.

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Catch Hector and My Revenge at Save Music in Chinatown on Sunday, October 19 at Human Resources in Chinatown! Show starts at 3, tickets are only 12 bucks in advance through Eventbrite and 15 at the door if it doesn’t sell out!

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Adam Pfahler on reissuing Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy

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Photo by Wild Don Lewis circa 1994.

While dorking around Facebook just like everyone else does, I started seeing posts about the upcoming reissue of Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. Of course, I had to hit up my pal, Jawbreaker drummer, and Blackball Records founder Adam Pfahler about it…

I last saw him in the spring when his new band, California, was in town and they even played our Save Music in California benefit on a double bill with the Chuck Dukowski Sextet. How awesome was that? Did I mention that he also played my wedding banquet with Whysall Lane? Crashed at my place with J Church?

Obviously, I’m a big fan of the man and his music so you probably can’t trust me when I say that 24 Hour Revenge Therapy is possibly the raddest Jawbreaker album–a perfect balance of being evolved yet totally ripping. Can’t wait to hear the alternate mixes when the thick wax reissue drops on October 14.

Was the 24 Hour Revenge Therapy period a blur or do you recall everything?
Both. I’ve found in the process of doing press for this record that while I like to think I have a photographic memory, there’s all kinds of stuff I totally forgot. But what I forgot, Chris remembers. What Chris forgot, Blake remembers. But I will say, the things that I do remember are very clear to me. Also, I kept journals on all of our tours. They’re written in a sort of shorthand. I always thought that I would eventually flesh them out if I was ever inspired to tell our story. I’m thinking I might bring my 1993 book down to Giant Robot and just read from that in lieu of boring people with weak freestyle.

Is it awkward to listen to the old songs? Weird? Awesome?
I think we sound great. Objectivity is the benefit of being so far removed from the band at this point. I’ve said it before: Jawbreaker was so long ago, I’m not 100 percent sure I was in the band. But the weirdest thing is when I hear our music out of context, by accident. Like one time I was in a coffee shop and they were playing one of our records. It took me way longer than you might think for me to recognize it was us. But the cool thing was, I liked what I heard! Anyway, I find that it’s more awkward and weird to listen to new music.

You get pretty serious about the remastering part. Have you always had the ear for that? Is it something you learned?
My ears are pretty shot. The reason I spend so much time mastering then, remastering then re-remastering the re-master, then eventually going with the original is that I can’t really hear. I don’t trust my ears. There, I said it. Did you hear that? Because I didn’t. See what I mean?

For the reissues, do you read the reviews and comments when they get posted? People are either so serious or snarky it hurts!
One time a guy who wasn’t even old enough to have seen us play made a snide remark that we weren’t a good live band. Now, I don’t care if you don’t like my band. But I’m absolutely sure about one thing and that is that we were a really good live band in spite of what this prick saw on YouTube. So I wrote him back, “Fuck you in the heart.” That’s about as far as I’ve gone. Mostly, I just wash them out of my life.

Does your inner label guy have battles with your inner band guy about why there’s no shows to go with the re-releases?
I see where you’re going with this–because I’m both the label guy and the band guy. The inner struggle! Dr. Jekyll versus Mr. Heckle! Alas, what I truly want is for everyone to go out and purchase Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy at finer record stores in their area. Then I want them to listen to the record and be inspired enough to start their own band. Then one day when they’re practicing their craft, I want their copy of 24 Hour Revenge Therapy to be stolen from
their car when they absentmindedly leave it unlocked in a sketchy-but-affordable part of town. Then I want them to march right out and purchase 24 Hour Revenge Therapy again. But before they do that, I want their bandmate to be like, “It’s cool dude. I have that record. I’ll rip you a copy of mine. Or better yet, why don’t you just stream it on Spotify or Rhapsody or Pandora or BitTorrent or any number of illegal downloading sites that David Lowery warned us about?” Then I want them to go, “You know what? I’m buying it again. And on top of that, I’m buying an extra copy just in case this one gets broken or stolen. Wait. No. Fuck that. I’m going to buy three copies. That way I’ll have one to give away as a gift if the spirit moves me.” Then I want Jawbreaker to get back together and play Vin Scully’s birthday party.

Does all the producing make you want to drum?
In the past 33-plus years, the longest time I’ve gone without playing drums is precisely nine months. That was after my third shoulder surgery in 2006. I have three drum kits: one set up at my practice space, one set up at my house, one in cases in the basement waiting for the next show or recording session. Looking at my usual routine via GPS, it appears I’m never more than 5 miles or 20 minutes from a drum set to bang on. This is comforting to me.

Is California the next release on Blackball Records?
I give you my word.

Can we plan our spring Save Music in Chinatown show around California’s next tour, and what will it take to get Rachel on the bill?
You say jump, we say, “How high?” We ask Rachel to get onstage, we go through a number of receptionists at Third Man Records before finally
getting “accidentally” disconnected and continue trying to reach her through the That Dog Totally Fanatical Fanpage on Facebook posing as Todd Rundgren offering a proper paying gig. When she finds out it’s us, she burns an effigy of the band–a VHS copy of John Milius’ Big Wednesday–atop the lifeguard station on Santa Monica State Beach just north of Chautauqua.

In reality, all it will take is a pack of Marlboro reds. In a box.

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Eloise’s first pilgrimage to visit Adam at Lost Weekend Video (February 16, 2014)

Pre-order 24 Hour Revenge Therapy from Midheaven and follow Jawbreaker on Facebook.

CicLAvia: Heart of the City

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I felt pretty good about teaching Eloise and her cousin Lucia how to ride bikes without training wheels this summer. It was hours after that exact moment that Wendy and I turned at each other and said something like, “Crud. Now we have to get bikes, too!” The last time I had a bicycle was in second or third grade, and it had a banana seat and coaster brakes. Never evolved beyond that and never got into Midnight Ridazz, fixies, or anything.

But just like that we went from zero to three bikes in our household and have become regulars on the L.A. River Bike Trail. Today we went on our first CicLAvia ride, in which streets are shut down so cyclists can explore enjoy the city in a car-free environment.

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I think the idea is to get Los Angelenos out of the house, on their bikes, and into new neighborhoods, but we just visited the same Chinatown and Downtown streets that we drive through practically every day. Of course, it’s different on a bike going through the 2nd Street tunnel and Eloise had never been to Grand Central Market. Meanwhile, I had never been inside the Bradbury Building.

The mercury reached 97 degrees, so we turned around after slugging some watermelon agua fresca and taking pictures in the legendary Blade Runner setting, and headed back to Chinatown. Eloise is a tough little kid but she’s still just a little kid and was toast.

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Back in Chinatown we stopped by the Catfe to see the felines resting up for their last afternoon at the crowded pop-up and then made sure Scoops had enough Save Music in Chinatown benefit flyers for the week. After all that, Eloise’s favorite part of the day was us meeting my in-laws for dimsum.

The next CicLAvia event is in December in South Central. Will we see you there? Although I’m not quite buying into those tight biker shorts or flippy little caps yet, we had a very cool day.

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ABC Nightline, eye jobs, and me

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I don’t recall exactly how or when I became an “expert” on Asian eye jobs and cosmetic surgery, but every few years I’ll get a phone call from a TV show producer regarding the subject: Tyra, Dr. Phil, CNN, and now ABC News. It was unexpected but not totally shocking when I was contacted by Nightline on Thursday morning.

I respectfully informed the producer that the Asian pop culture magazine I helped make is long gone, and suggested that she find someone from entertainment or academia instead. Isn’t there someone with more authority or star power who is willing say something negative about cosmetic surgery being used to erase one’s ethnicity? Or at least get a woman to comment on a woman’s decision. But when she insisted that they really wanted my quote, I thought, “Hell, what the heck.

A cameraman came over that afternoon, a quick interview was conducted in my backyard via speakerphone, and here’s what aired on Friday evening:

http://abcnews.go.com/video/embed?id=25959764
More ABC news videos | ABC Entertainment News

There’s also a text version at abcnews.go.com.

It’s flattering to be asked for my opinion but how sad is it that a similar story keeps running year after year. If someone wants to change his or her look, that’s a personal choice. A lot of them will look great afterward. But what message are they sending to the world or to their kids (or nieces or nephews or kids they know)? What is beauty? What is real?

The is the first time I’ve done one of these segments now that my daughter is a little girl and not a baby, and I have to admit that the story hit closer to home as a result. Although Eloise will surely (and preferably) develop her own aesthetics and interests, I hope we can instill in her the security and confidence to overcome the monster that is The Beauty Myth no matter what direction she goes in.

Descendents and OFF! at the Fox Theater, ALL and friends at Los Globos

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When the Descendents opened for Rise Against and Bad Religion a few years ago, my brother and many of my friends gladly paid the 40 bucks and drove down to Long Beach to see them play an early, brief opening set. How could we miss it? It might have been a decade since they last played a live show for the SoCal scene that spawned them, and who knew if it would ever happen again? It was a huge, cathartic, and sweaty singalong for all of us hardcore nerds–and a little poetic for my brother and me since the first time we saw the band was at Fender’s Ballroom (R.I.P.) just a couple of blocks away on their farewell/finALL/Milo Goes Back to College M.D. tour in 1987.

Of course, the band that couldn’t sell out a telephone booth have come back many times since the Long Beach Arena show and I’ve caught each of the sold-out shows: GV30, FYF, Musink… So how could I miss a gig in a non-festival venue perfectly matched with OFF! or a special follow-up gig with ALL (featuring 3/4 of the Descendents) to celebrate the release of the Descendents/ALL documentary, Filmage?

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As much as I love the Descendents and know every song inside out, I am just as versed in the first three or four ALL releases. In the early ’90s, I used to see the band practically every weekend at the Anti-Club with either the Chemical People or Big Drill Car opening. They’d attract 20 or 30 people, which was a real shame considering how catchy, polished, and perfect ALL songs could be. I wasn’t shocked that they’d leave town to be somewhere more central for cheaper rent and easier cross-country touring.

But on Monday night Los Globos was packed for the band’s homecoming: a special two-part set with Scott Reynolds and Chad Price each singing half of the set. I’ve only seen Chad a few times but he’s a great front man with an effortlessly gravelly smooth voice and demeanor. Songs like “Fairweather Friend,” “Million Bucks,” and “Original Sin” came back fast after decades of not hearing them. Seeing Bill Stevenson play drums way up close in a tiny club was a real treat, too. He’s a machine.

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The Scott Reynolds era is my sentimental favorite, since I saw that lineup literally dozens of times. His set kicked off with “Crazy” and included “Dot,” “Mary,” “Scary Sad,” “She’s My Ex,” and so many other super catchy cuts that should have been hits. After playing “Frog,” even Scott had to admit what a dumb song that was. It was great seeing him jump, crawl, and work his way through the set like we were in a time machine.

The Dave Smalley era was represented by Chad singing “Paper Tiger,” and what I would have given to hear “Daveage” or “Just Perfect.” Seriously. I would have offered to personally pay for Smalley’s plane ticket from Virginia just so I could hear him sing “#10 (Wet)” with ALL but the thought didn’t occur to me until it was too late.

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Following ALL’s set, a succession of guests came out to for a Descendents karaoke session. London May from Samhain sang “Descendents” and Milo from The Last sang “I Don’t Want To Grow Up.” After the show Milo told me that he actually auditioned to sing for the Descendents when the other Milo went to college, so this was kind of like a peek into that parallel universe where it worked out. The Filmage creators got a chance to take on “Cheer” and then Scott returned for “My Dad Sucks” and “I Like Food.”  It was pretty cool to hear Jen from the Bombpops sing a dude-oriented song “I’m The One,” and it was also cool that Chad got to sing “Thank You” after the crowd got amped up.

I think Marko from Sugarcult was the only guy in the house that needed a lyric sheet for “Get The Time,” but maybe his pal from the Posies knew them better. It was awesome to see Dennis from Refused/International Noise conspiracy/INVSN singing “Hope” and then “Silly Girl.” Wow. I didn’t recognize Davey from AFI when he sang “Myage” and “Bikeage” but spotted Jim from Pennywise in his Dodgers cap earlier and was stoked when he cranked out “Suburban Home” and “I Wanna Be A Bear.” Matt from Blink-182 finished things off with “Clean Sheets.” I understand he handled the Q&A following the movie screening at the Downtown Independent earlier that evening… If this description sounds manic, that’s how it was. You shoulda been there, and props to Filmage and Vannen for making it happen.

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The night before was a dream bill with Descendents and OFF! and their histories overlap and intersect all over the storied landscape of L.A. punk and hardcore. No city on earth can top the musical past or present of Los Angeles, and this show at the lovely old Fox Theater in Pomona provided evidence.

Opening up was a transplant from San Diego, The Bombpops. Great to see a slightly younger band featuring some women in the veteran sausage party, and they cranked out a totally fun, tight, and compact set. Perfect!

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OFF! are always great, but this was my first time to see the combo with Dale Crover from the Melvins sitting in on drums while Mario is on tour with Rocket From The Crypt. No one can drum like Mario, who seems like he’s going to destroy his kit and leave the room as ruins whenever he whales. But with Dale you get the feeling that he is going to kill someone with his drumsticks. Heavy. Dark. Evil. A different and great fit.

Keith didn’t do too much editorializing during OFF!’s opening set. Maybe he had packing on his mind since the band was about to embark on a European tour. Maybe his spiel wasn’t flowing since the show was a one-off. But one can always expect 100 percent intensity from one of the raddest punk singers and thinkers of all time. He touted the new album but those songs don’t seem new any more; they’re just the latest part of a ripping catalog with O.G. hardcore anger, veteran chops, with DIY intensity that a zillion dollars of production can’t buy.

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Keith did joke that 99.9 percent of the venue was there to see the Descendents and couldn’t give a crap about OFF! Sadly, I think that might have been true. So weird. Maybe Pomona was just too far for the crusty L.A. punks to make the drive on a Sunday night.

By now in the Descendents’ reunited state, everyone knows what to expect yet always leaves blown away. They have the tightest lineup, the most likeable singer, and catchiest songs. Mixing up the best songs from Milo Goes to College all the way through Cool To Be You, their playlist is supreme. They can do no wrong. The biggest differences between this killer set and the others is that there were no kids helping out with the “All-o-gistics.”

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There was one surprise. I spotted my friend Tony from the Adolescents in the middle of the show and started catching up him after the set ended when he was suddenly grabbed by Stephen and whisked onstage to sing a version of “No Way.” Holy crap, that was awesome. The whole band but especially Bill had a huge smile on his face and during the entire song.

One weird thing I have to add is that I usually hate it when someone sings along at shows and acts like a fool. But at a Descendents show, everyone really should be shouting along every lyric, jumping around nonstop, and having the best time ever. The amps are cranked up so loud, no one can hear you sing along anyway. That’s how it was at Ramones shows, too…

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But the night was still young. Thanks to the magic of social media, I had begun corresponding with Chris Shary, who illustrates a lot of Descendents and ALL merch. Since he also did a lot of Chems merch back in the day and they had a song called “Donut Run,” I thought we might go to one of my favorite 24-hour eateries after the show. When he agreed and said that Milo might come along, I didn’t argue. And since Tony also a friend of theirs–and a fellow Donut Man fan, to boot–I invited him, too.

Some of my favorite bands. The last weekend of fresh strawberry donuts. Hanging out with Milo, Chris, and Tony at Donut Man. Can it get any better than that? (Without having my wife and daughter around, of course…)

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In your quest for ALL, I recommend you pre-order the Filmage DVD, check out the art of Chris Shary, and blast every record by the Descendents and Adolescents nonstop…

Glen E. Friedman’s Rules

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Last Thursday, I went to Arcana Books in Culver City to get the new book by Glen E. Friedman and have it signed. If there’s such thing as a role model, it’s GEF. Not only is he a kickass photographer who captures and pushes subculture that matters to me (Dogtown skateboarding, the rise of hardcore punk in L.A. and New York City, the Golden Age of Hip Hop) but he also works strictly according to his own tastes and always on his own terms.

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I’ve had the outspoken vegan peace activist sign books before–and even got to run some of his photos in GR–but that was before I was a dad. This time I had my daughter Eloise present to join in a photo with the man. Earlier in the day, I showed her some of GEF’s photos of people that she’s met or seen in concert: Tony Brandenburg, Chuck Dukowski, Keith Morris, Milo Auckerman. Pretty rad that she’s starting to get where he’s coming from at the age of 6.

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The book is by far GEF’s largest and nicest volume yet. Many of the images were previously included in his previous collections but in My Rules they are not only enlarged but color balanced. The images’ details pop extra hard and there is no sacrifice in punch. There are plenty of lengthy new essays, too, by heavy hitters including the aforementioned Tony and Chuck, not to mention Ian Mackaye, Ice T, Tony Alva, and many of the the other usual suspects. I also appreciate how the binding is quilted instead of having a dust jacket that will inevitably get mangled. (More details comparing the books on my Imprint blog.)

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GEF’s homies always seem to come out to support his signings, and they always gladly sign their pages. Jeff Ho, Jim Muir, C.R. Stecyk–serious legends of Dogtown. Eloise was getting hungry so we had to miss the video with GEF and Ian Mackaye and subsequent Q&A (and I think Dukowski) but there’s a fine line between being a rad dad and a lame one, and I never want to cross it.

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It was also awesome to see so many friends. We carpooled with my friend/filmmaker/photographer Wing Ko and met up with our mutual pal Eric Matthies. Matthies helped shoot and screen the video that showed at the bookstore. And the first guy we saw was Dave Naz, another art photographer with roots in L.A. punk. More on Naz and his upcoming art show at Coagula soon…

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Everyone at Arcana could have been cheap and bought the book for way less on Amazon. But shaking the creator’s hand, supporting a cool bookstore, and being part of a community is important, too. Not all of us can be iconoclastic culture pushers, but we can all enjoy it, support it, and grow it better when we leave the front door. And why not give that example to your kid, too?

L.O.L.A. (not the Kinks song)

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I had coffee with my friend Vivian Bang today and she gave me the scoop on her new project. L.O.L.A. sounds like part of a Kinks song, but it’s actually an omnibus movie written by Vivian to be directed by ten of her filmmaker pals. Hello, Jessica Sanders!

I’d be lying if I said that I’m a huge supporter of the rideshare scene, which Vivian’s story touches on, but I love Los Angeles and look forward to seeing her takes on its neighborhoods. And who can’t get behind hard-working women who got sick of the lack of quality gigs in the industry and decided to start their own feature?

Check out the Kickstarter page and movie for the DIY flick, below. There are some pretty cool and affordable incentives. (Wait, how much was that coffee worth?) And even if you can’t spare any dough, spreading the word helps, too!

p.s. Watch Vivian on TBS’s Sullivan & Son. I don’t have cable but I hear she’s pretty good on it.