Just Above Sunset
September 26, 2004: "Cool Hunting" - done by a hippie columnist ...

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World’s Laziest Journalist


By Bob Patterson


Are blogs for today’s world, what the underground newspapers were in the Sixties?  If a young writer arrived in Los Angeles in 1968, reading the Herald Examiner, the Santa Monica Outlook, and the Los Angeles Times were good methods to find out what was happening in the area, but if you were looking for hip places to go, bands to check out, and trends in the formative stage, then buying the weekly LA Free Press was the best way to get wired in to some stories and events that were going to be influential.


How do young writers arriving in L.A. get connected to the information about what’s going to be worth covering or seeing these days?  The Her-Ex, and the Outlook are gone.  The Freep isn’t what it used to be.


Apparently new arrivals in the L.A. area are turning to web sites, such as L.A. Observed to provide the guidance similar now to what the Freep used to deliver every Thursday, back then.  Yes, there are weekly print newspapers that provide events calendars and extensive information about what bands are playing at a particular club for the next seven days, but for “jungle drums” style “heads-up” ahead of time information, it seems to this columnist, reading that one website is as essential now as grabbing a copy of the underground newspaper was in the Sixties.  (Back then, San Francisco had the Berkley Barb, New York had the Village Voice and the East Village Other.  Eye Magazine tried to be a hip national magazine, but didn’t last long.)  That was then; this is now.  We tend to use what works and more than once that site has aimed us at material that provides the basis for a column.  (Thanks, KR!)


Recently we saw an item about the formation of a new social group for writers and freelance journalists in the LA area.  The LA contingent of this online magazine’s staff thought the event was worth a look.  Accompanied by the Just Above Sunset’s beloved editor and publisher, we headed out for Hollywood.  (Nothing brings out a reporter’s manners better than being under the personal supervision of the boss.)


The random sample of people we talked to were recent arrivals in Los Angeles and they were quite anxious to sort out the process of adjusting to their new base of operations.  The New Yorkers compared notes about the reaction of their friends when they were informed that the writers were moving to L.A.  Apparently the most common reaction was amused befuddlement.  “Why on earth would you want to do that?”  Back in 1968 the reaction was mostly “I wish I could go with ya.”


In addition to the New York refugees, we found some new arrivals from Boston, Austin, and the Netherlands.


One of the new arrivals lives on Laurel Canyon.  Her neighbors hadn’t hipped her to the street’s Doors connection.  In the Doors song “Love Street,” the lyrics made a reference to a shop on Laurel Canyon:  “I wonder what they do in there.”  They were alluding to a place run by singer Jim Morrison’s wife.


Talking to the young writers to find out what band they like is a different kind of journalism than Press Release journalism that touts musical groups that just happen (what a coincidence) to be running an ad in the same issue of that same music oriented publication.  The band being talked about at the event in Hollywood, last week, was “The Ex.”  That group, not to be confused with the eighties L.A. band “X,”  has been playing for many years, but we don’t get out clubbing much these days.  Does the “better late than never” philosophy apply to “cool hunting?”


Information about the Southern California literary group’s future gatherings is available from literarylosangeles@yahoo.com.


Recently the Platoon of Pajama Pundits, known as bloggers, had made waves by being in the vanguard of people debating the merits and authenticity of certain memos.  They have been working from copies that were Xeroxed and then faxed.  Isn’t that a lot like having a gemologist assess the authenticity of a diamond by working from a photograph?  Doing journalism at home not far from the coffee pot is pleasant, but is it the most effective methodology?


Reverend Leroy (Flip Wilson) called it “The Church of What’s Happening Now” and for journalists finding out what’s the latest sensation can become a lifelong habit.  It used to be called “trend spotting,” but these day’s it’s known as “cool hunting.”


The Heisenberg uncertainty principle (as I understand the synopsis) holds that sometimes an observer can change the nature of the thing being observed.  For instance, if a reclusive artist does a “Burnt Orange Heresy” type work and no one knows about it, that’s one thing; but if Time magazine reports it, then the artist is anointed “hot” and can suddenly charge a great deal more for his/her artwork, and can franchise their name out to book, film, and clothing deals.  Thus they are no longer a “starving artist” with the sensibilities and philosophy of an anonymous face in the crowd; they are a certified “personality” and their PR agent can deal with People magazine about “exclusives.”


Writers/reporters who are looking for cultural trends find much more fertile grounds in New York and Los Angeles, hence they tend to cluster in those two large metropolises.  Hunters don’t go to Antarctica if they want to hunt polar bears. 


You can find an interesting topic to write about online, but going “out among them” has always been an exciting, dicey way of finding unexpected prime grade “A” material.  Especially if you are looking for a feature story rather than a consumer trend.


A sports reporter once related the details about stumbling across a great source of information that made salable copy.  He and a coworker were discussing the particulars of Man o’ War.  The bartender interrupted with a definitive statement about how the horse performed.  The writer asked him why he would say that so unequivocally and the guy replied:  “I was his trainer.”  That was good for more than one article sale.


This columnist was in a gas station in Santa Monica and the guy working one of the self-serve pumps nearby somehow worked the fact that you could launch a B-25 bomber from the flight deck of an aircraft carrier into the chit-chat.  There were only a small number of people in the world who knew that for sure because they had done it.  He was one of them.


Another time, on a flight from L.A. to New York City, the flight had originated in Hawaii and this columnist was seated next to a little old lady from the 50th state.  There was only one way to find out if she had lived an interesting life; and that was to ask.  Seems she had been a secretary in Washington D. C. during WWII for a guy named William Donavon.  To military buffs interested in the history of espionage he was known as Wild Bill, the founder of the OSS.


A while back, on a walk through the Mar Vista area of Los Angeles, this columnist talked to some guys who were going to take some Land Rovers on a drive around the world.  Got that week’s column out of that bit of good luck.


Recently this columnist and a photographer pal went on a photo taking safari to Culver City and met some very cordial folks who invited us to tour their residence.  It was a spectacular display of one carpenter’s artistry and skill that should be made into a national architectural heritage spot.  Think of it as one talented carpenter’s attempt to build his own small-scale version of Hurst Castle.  This treasure of a dwelling has been in one or two architectural magazines and a Sunday newspaper magazine or two, but as it is now, thousands pass by on a nearby thoroughfare blissfully unaware of the cultural treasure that lurks there in obscurity.


There is a maxim that advises: “Spontaneity works; if it’s planned right.”


Now, if the disk jockey will play the Serendipity Singers rendition of Don’t Let the Rain Come Down, we’ll impulsively vacate the premises.  We’ll scour the Internet and the streets of LA for some informative and entertaining items for next week’s installment.  Drop by and see what we find.  Meanwhile have a spontaneous and impulsive week and be kind to hippies, they’re a dying breed.


Copyright 2004 – Robert Patterson




Editor’s note:


This week we did attend a literary mixer at a club, CineSpace, up on Hollywood Boulevard, at Ivar.  Very hip – a second floor space in a converted thirties bank building, done, as is usual these days, in the manner of Philippe Starck.  While Bob was gathering the news of the cool, I chatted with one Han Ceelen - a reporter for de Vokkskrant and VPRO (Holland) and De Morgen (Belgium).  He's been here six months and covers the entertainment stuff out this way.  An amusing fellow, learning to write in English so he can do more than post in Dutch back to his homies.  The others there seemed to be would-be screenwriters and the usual Hollywood riff-raff, although one budding screenwriter said he just moved here from Austin, Texas.  I asked him if he knew Molly Ivins.  He did! 


The woman who hosted the thing, Darcy Cosper, is a good sort and we had a long chat.  Her first novel - a chick lit thing - got good press in the women's magazines and she sold the movie rights in two days.  Google her.  I suspect I'll run into her again - as she lives about a block away.


Wedding Season

Darcy Cosper

Three Rivers Press (Random House)
Fiction 1-4000-5145-2
March 2004  $ 12.95


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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