Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.
Showing posts with label Batcave. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Batcave. Show all posts

Thursday, September 12, 2013

STEVIE'S SPANKING (AND ROBERT'S)





I can’t remember exactly when I worked it out, but it seems that when I first arrived in Los Angeles I lived within walking distance of both Steve Vai and Robert Cray, a couple of wildly different, but indisputably mighty guitarists, admittedly ones I respect rather than love, but I did write about both them in a not quite forgotten book titled Big Noises.


 In any case, such is the nature of these things, I only realized they both lived in the area as they were moving out.  Keeping an eye on the property market is a major preoccupation in LA, even for people like me who have no intention of buying or selling a house, and of course there’s always the added value of a celebrity connection.  I only located the Vai and Cray houses because they were touted as desirable properties when they came up for sale.


Cray, it turned out, had been living in an “Enchanting one story European, private and custom home on huge lot w/almost 1 acre flat with pool. An island unto itself. 3 Bds. 21/2 Baths.L.R. has beamed ceilings. & Ariz. Flagstone F.P., Wood flrs.D.R. has adjct. patio bringing in the outdoors. Kitch. has Viking Range & Sub-Zero in pantry. Sep. office/gst.hse + office/studio. Master has secret garden w/spa. Rear patio has F.P. & B.B.Q. Huge driveway w/rm. for 8 cars. Wine cellar-Pool-Zinfandel Vines ready for harvest! Views of Griffith Observ.”  Blimey.  Who knew the blues was so profitable? Though to be fair he’d bought the house in 1997 for just $800,000.  A nice return.



Vai’s digs were “modest” by comparison, on sale for “just” a couple of million, featuring “open floor plan, views of Beachwood Canyon, four and a half baths, a den, and a patio, according to listing information. The house’s size is up for debate; public records say it measures 3,316 square feet, while listing information proclaims that it has 4,716 square feet.”  It also had a “top-of-the-line sound studio with a control room, a live room, and a mic room,” but then it would, wouldn't it?


Are Messrs. Vai and Cray great walkers?  Well, I’m guessing no, not really.  There’s an interview with Vai in which he says, “I am sort of a walking dichotomy.”  But that hardly counts. And at the end of his song “For the Love of God” there’s a voice over by David Coverdale, in which he intones, "Walking the fine line... between Pagan... and Christian.”  Vai allegedly recorded that piece on day 4 of a 10 day fast.  "I do try to push myself into relatively altered states of consciousness. Because in those states you can come up with things that are unique even for yourself.”  But why day 4 rather day 9 or 10, I have no idea.


         Cray performs a couple of walking-related songs. “I’m Walking” and “Walk Around Time” the latter of which includes the lyric
“Love can be easy
But the trust is hard to find
And all I need is some walk around time.”


Did Steve ever sling his Ibanez over his shoulder and stroll across to Robert’s place for a jam, or vice versa?   They surely could have, but I’m guessing they didn’t.  So I decided to make the journey on their behalf, to drift from the former Vai to the former Cray property. However, since this is really a pathetically short distance I decided to do a long detour that took me up to in Bronson Canyon and the “Batcave” as seen in the 1960s TV series, an old haunt for me.  I kept hoping that I’d find evidence that Vai or Cray were great Batman fans or had at least jammed together on the Batman theme.  Apparently not.


That’s Vai place above as it is now, and it presents a fairly blank and private face to the world.  On the other hand it is closely hemmed in on all side by other houses, and however good the studio’s soundproofing you have to imagine than when Stevie spanked his plank, the neighbors would have known all about it.  Still, at least you could have knocked on his front door and asked him to turn it down.


When Robert Cray (that’s his gaff above) turned it up to eleven, or even eight, you’d have had to scale a couple of fences and an earthwork before you could confront the man and try to do any “strong persuading.”

And I realized as well, that I’d walked past both these houses before, and I’d certainly not imagined that any great guitar heroics were going on inside, but that I suppose is just what you’d want if you were a guitar hero.

And so to the Batcave.  The weather report I’d read said the day was going to be comparatively cool but as I schlepped along the road into the canyon, and then along the dirt track that led to the “cave,” uphill all the way, it felt pretty darned hot.  Whenever I’d been there before, there had always been a few people around, often it seemed shooting some kind of amateur video using the Batcave as setting, but today there was absolutely nobody.  Maybe they’d all read a more accurate weather report.




But there was evidence of human presence.  Somebody, perhaps several people, with an arty bent, and at least a nodding acquaintance with the works of Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy (that's their work above) but with less lofty ambitions, had created some site-specific interventions, using the natural materials at hand.  First there was a stone circle:


And just as interesting, inside the cave, or tunnel, or whatever you want to call it, there were tiny constructions, involving piles of stones, miniature cairns,  and in one place a self-supporting arch, no bigger than your hand.  Anonymous art by unseen creators.  Clearly none of it was ancient or primitive, but it did seem somehow magical, evidence of “relatively altered states of consciousness” and also just a little unsettling.


Anyway, in due course the spell was broken.  Along came a hiker in a Batman tee shirt.  “Ah, you too have come to Mecca,” he said, and I didn’t argue with him.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

WALKING WITH CATWOMAN


Hollywood being what it is, I found myself shortly before Christmas at the same party as Julie Newmar, the legendary actress who played Catwoman in the Adam West Batman TV series of the early 1960s.  That’s her above at the party.  As I’ve discovered since, having mentioned it to various people, there are some who find this the most exciting thing they’ve ever heard, others who haven’t a clue who the lady is: generation has something to do with it, but not everything.



Ms. Newmar and I exchanged a few pleasantries, and I did notice that she was a little unsteady on her feet, holding people’s arm for support, and I did hear her tell somebody that she gave up high heels about five years ago.  There’s much debate online about just how old Julie Newmar is, but nobody seems to think she’s less than 75, so to have been strutting in stilettos till the age of 70 doesn’t strike me as the worst record.  And whatever age she is, she’s still looking pretty damn good on it. 


In fact it’s not easy to find a picture of Julie Newmar walking, whether as Catwoman or as herself: photographers seem to have preferred to see her lounging around.  I don’t really blame them.  The day after the party I looked up her blog and found an entry from 2009 titled Up and At ‘Em, in which she tells us that sadly “The crunch is, I barely can walk these days,” but not to worry, she says, “I can fly … Flying is the key.  As a concept, flying beats walking any day.  In my case, it means walking intensely, as in an intensity of purpose.”


She also compares herself with Franklin D. Roosevelt (not a comparison many of us would make, I think), “Like me, Franklin Delano Roosevelt couldn’t walk, and he rose above it to run the United States of America for four terms as President.  We never heard him complain.”  Indeed.


Now, it so happens that I live within walking distance of the location used as the outside of the Batcave in the 1960s TV series, it’s in Bronson Canyon, which is itself part of Griffith Park.  In fact, the Batcave isn’t really a cave at all, it’s a short tunnel, the remains of quarrying work that used to go on in the area. The interior, of course, was elsewhere, in fact on a sound stage at Desilu Studios in Culver City. 


Nevertheless, in honor of Batman and Catwoman, and especially in honor of Julie Newmar, I decided to walk up there on Christmas Eve and found that a surprising number of people had had the same idea. Good for them.  Good for all of us.


The walk started at the corner of Foothill Drive and Canyon Drive, another of those frustrating roads posted with the message “No Access to the Hollywood Sign,” the truth being that no road actually gives access to the Hollywood sign, however we define “access.”


Along Canyon, it being Xmas, a few people had decorated their gardens, including the one above,  Christmas balls adorning a euphorbia and a century plant. Not far from here, not that long ago, one of the houses once had a full size cross outside, big enough for a real crucifixion, which I guess is another version of the Christmas story.  Eventually the walk took me into the park with its various signs warning against fires and rattlesnakes, and this particularly fine sign forbidding alcohol. 


Now admittedly that’s a very shallow glass out of which to drink booze, but those bubbles sparkling both in and out of the glass strike me as a triumph of alcohol-related design, though frankly not one likely to deter the determined boozer/walker.


Access to the “Batcave” is on foot only and there’s a locked barrier across the track leading up to it, to prevent vehicles entering, but once you get up to the cave there’s evidence that bad boys have found a way to drive up there and do doughnuts in front of the cave entrance.


Of course there are no bats in the Batcave, let alone cats, and their attendant men and women, but once you emerge on the other side there are ravens on the hills and hawks circling, and if you turn to the left and look up you do actually see the Hollywood sign, rather distantly, which is arguably the best way to see it.


I’m not sure that Batman did much more walking than Catwoman or Julie Newmar but there is this great cover from Detective Comics.  "Beware of Batman!  He’s a walking bomb."  Well, aren’t we all?