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 Hollywood Boulevard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hollywood Boulevard. Show all posts

Sunday, January 1, 2017


On the morning of December 27th on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and McCadden Place there was a young black man, standing very straight and still, and saying “Fuck” loudly, repeatedly, rhythmically.  The street was too crowded for people completely to avoid him, but the many passersby, mostly tourists, were doing their very best to pretend he wasn’t there.

The young man was holding a stack of CDs.   It’s the kind of thing quite a few scammers do on Hollywood Boulevard, and being of sound mind I’ve never got involved, but I gather the drill is they “give” you a CD, sometimes even sign it for you, then ask for a “donation.”  Declining this turns out to be much harder than you’d expect.  Even so, it struck me that yelling fuck at passersby, in fact possibly at the whole world, was not the very best way to draw people into your CD scam – unless it’s a hip-hop thing.  Below is a man with a better technique.

There was plenty of other action on the post-Christmas, pre-New Year Boulevard that day.  It is, of course, a common complaint that Los Angeles lacks street life, yet here you could find the homeless, the drug-addled, people dressed up as Batman or Minnie Mouse, guys drumming on empty buckets, panhandlers - at least one of them in a wheelchair exposing his stump: all of these people more than willing to extract a little gelt from the tourists.

The tourists in turn appeared to be in a constant state of confusion, asking themselves questions (I imagine), some more Existential than others – “Why are we here?  What are we doing?  What are we supposed to be looking at?  Did we really come all this way just to go shopping at The Gap?”  In despair some of them end up walking round the Madame Tussaud’s waxworks.  Because yes, this is a walking street – as Johnnie Walker was there to remind us.

And of course people were taking lots of photographs, of the stars in the sidewalk, of each other, and of course of themselves.  For these folks there was a stern warning stenciled on the ground.

I didn’t see anybody taking much notice.  And even if it were true I don’t imagine the American people would want to give up their selfies any more than they want to give up their guns. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Another day, another walk in Hollywood, and a day of faces, some looking down, some looking up from the sidewalk.  Some (as it were human) some less so.

A minimalist Lou Reed from his Transformer era.  I mean, I’m pretty sure it’s Lou Reed, but it does look a bit like Michael Bolton:

A comparatively detailed face signed by Klassy:

And then what at first I thought was best of all, a stencil of our soon to be Fearless Leader:

“Pendejo,” as I understand it, means a fool or an idiot, though it also (and simultaneously) means a single pubic hair.  Good knockabout, activist stuff you might think, but it turns out that “Ilegal Mescal” is just a brand of liquor which rather spoils the “guerilla” effect.

And meanwhile high above it all on Hollywood Boulevard, in Thai Town, not so much looking down as looking beyond, four golden statues of Apsoni, a mythical half-woman, half-lion, which appear thoroughly unimpressed by what’s going on below.  We’re all in the gutter, right?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


I’ve been reading a book titled Hollywood Hell, so that you don’t have to. It was published in 1985, and of course it was the title that hooked me - and maybe the cover, though it's not very representative of what goes on in the book, which is all about waifs and strays and street kids, who get involved in crime and porn.

The hero is one Mack Bolan – sometimes know as the Executioner.  

Not to be confused with Marc Bolan obviously. "You’re not really going out in public in those shoes are you Marc?"

Mack Bolan is the creation of Don Pendleton – and if online sources are to be believe he’s appeared in 600 novels.  Pendleton sold the rights somewhere along the line, and a crew of lesser scribes evidently took over.  

Don Pendleton

Mack Bolan gets around: Cambodia, Soho, Beirut, and does a lot of killing with a very big gun.  To be fair most of the really violent action of Hollywood Hell takes place in Topanga and Pasadena, and the writer (who isn’t named, though somebody called Mike Newton is given “special thanks” on the copyright page) doesn’t put a whole lot of effort into giving a sense of place, but there is one strangely evocative description – of walking in Hollywood – almost certainly on Hollywood Boulevard:

“The hunter (that would be Bolan) parked his rental car upwind, deciding to walk.  He noted there seemed to be no continuity among the people he encountered in this neighborhood of sleazy bars and businesses.  Along the short block’s walk he met a human of every race and gender.
         “Men in stylish business suits looked sheepish or defensive as they caught his eye: the punks, decked out in leather with their spiky hair dyed every color of the rainbow, tended toward defiance seasoned with a dash of apathy.  A macho body-builder type paraded past him, hand in hand with his diminutive bearded lover.
“Across the street a stoned guitarist played for the amusement of some black youths dressed in street-gang colors, and a wino occupied the vacant doorway next to his objective, grumbling fitfully in alcoholic slumber.”

All of which sounds vaguely appealing, like a cultural and ethnic rainbow coalition, where everybody’s learned to just get along, which might be the very reason so many waifs and strays end up on Hollywood Boulevard, although Mack Bolan takes a different view.

I walk along Hollywood Boulevard all the time and of course I see waifs and strays, and sometimes their interactions with cops, which in general seem to be a lot less antagonistic than you might imagine.  I remember seeing one tough-looking kid, maybe in his late teens, being asked by a cop, “How long you been out here?” 
The kid replied, “Been out this time for ten days.  Been on the street since I was 12.”
In Hollywood just about everybody knows how to deliver a good line.

And because I’m one of those scavengers who picks up unconsidered trifles when he walks the street, I found this:

It’s a piece of rather expensive cardboard packaging, dense with layers of writing by different hands, not all the words legible, some of it a birthday greeting to Ringo Starr, some a description of street life of Hollywood waifs and strays.  The best I can make out says: - “I want my best Hollywood house now - my safe place 2 sleep” – “How many guys have my phones” – “Pinup poster girl & everyone keeps stealing my stuff” – there’s also something I can’t quite make out about sleeping outside and finding the sprinklers suddenly turned on.

It’s better written, more moving, more eloquent than anything to be found in Hollywood Hell.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


 It’s a good few decades since I first read the opening lines of the “Proteus” chapter in Ulysses, the chapter in which Stephen Dedalus walks along Sandymount Strand.   I read the words "Ineluctable modality of the visible," reached for the dictionary and looked up the meaning both of ineluctable and modality, and I think I was at least very slightly wiser afterwards.

Now I know, or at least I’m given to understand, that this is a reference to Aristotelian notions of form and substance, that what the eye sees is not inherent in the thing seen.  At one point Stephen closes his eyes and wonders if the world still exists, to which the all too obvious answer is “Duh.”

At the very least I suppose those words mean that we can’t escape the visual, though I’m not sure why we’d want to. 

And of course there’s a double bluff going on here, in that Joyce’s novel is transforming a visual experience (though obviously not only a visual experience) into a verbal one, into a text.  And I often think, as I walk in the world, that the separation between the verbal and the visual is largely a false one.

I’m a writer and I love words, but a lot of the time I write about what I see. And occasionally I take a photograph to capture details that I might otherwise forget, even as I accept that taking the photograph changes the nature of forgetting and remembering.

  But the fact is, the world I see when I’m walking is full of language, visible language, words in a landscape. Cities seem to be full of fragmented poetry and prose, right there on the wall or the floor, and very occasionally up in the sky.    

This isn’t why I walk, but it definitely makes the experience of walking all the more worthwhile.  Sometimes I wonder if language is ineluctable.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


I suppose that if you leave your art out in the street, you can’t be too surprised if it fails to stay pristine.  Even so, the last time I walked along Hollywood Boulevard I was surprised, and maybe shocked and offended, and certainly dismayed, to find that the above mural of Dolores Del Rio had been, so to speak, subverted some rather inelegant tagging.   It now looks like this:

Well, who could say they were completely surprised?  You might think the solution would be to put the art under transparent plastic, but that seems to be only a partial solution.  When I was in London earlier this year, wandering around Fitzrovia, I came upon a Banksy; genuine as far as I could tell.  It had started out looking like this:

But when I saw it, it looked like this:

It seems that a certain number of people want to “express themselves” in conjunction with or in opposition to Banksy.  In many cases this doesn’t look much different from being jealous and resentful.  Arguably the original remains intact but the effect is spoiled, or maybe it isn’t.  Banksy is obviously sussed out enough not to be surprised by this kind of thing.  Whether that’s the same as welcoming it, I’m not sure.

Want to see an amazingly unconvincing faux Banksy.  Then check out this one that was on the front of the Liberal Club in Woking a few years back:

 Although of course it does occur to me that it looks so faux that maybe Banksy (subversive that he is) actually did it just to confuse the art lovers and the art haters of Woking.

But sometimes you don’t need human intervention to create change and decay in a mural.  Nobody has tagged or vandalized Terry Schoonhoven Isle of California mural in the Sawtelle district of LA , but it’s now the best part of 45 years old.  It was created in 1970-2, when it looked like this:

And now it looks like this:

The California sun has been the main agent of destruction here, which again comes as no surprise.  But also the wall has been reinforced, which is obviously a good thing – nobody wants the wall to fall down-  but the anchors (I think that’s the right term) are evidently made from some kind of ferrous metal, and so each of them has rusted and bled.

As a man who enjoys a little ruin and entropy, as well as art, I find it hard to get too upset about it.  I also love walls, whatever state they’re in.  Here’s a picture of one I saw earlier, in New York – no sign of rust, but no sign of art either.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


So I was walking on Hollywood Boulevard, and I went to see an exhibition at the LACE gallery, a “storefront installation” of photographs by Ave Pildas, titled Hollywood Boulevard The 70s.  Pildas worked as an art director at Capitol Records just up the street, and he took thousands of pictures on the Walk of Fame, between 1972 and 1975, although just 50 were on display at LACE. 

Pildas says,  "At that time people were saying the country was tilted to the West and all the crazies rolled towards California. They stopped just short of the ocean and landed in Hollywood."

        I can testify to the essential accuracy of that.  This was the time I first set foot on Hollywood Boulevard: in 1974.  I was a fairly young, though not entirely naïve, English hitchhiker, absorbing the very last rays of the hippy sunset, and although there was still a “sex and drugs and rock and roll” vibe to Hollywood, it didn’t feel like any summer of love.  The place was scary.  The people didn’t just look crazy, they looked downright dangerous, and as I remember it, way less benign than the ones who appear in these photographs.  

         I was saying all this to my walking and exhibition-going companion, the photographer Jason Oddy.  Jason has been known to take photographs in the street, though he’s a very long way from being a street photographer. He takes very serious, very beautiful and elegant, and largely depopulated photographs, like this one of Mentouri University, Constantine, Algeria, 2013, from the “Concrete Spring” Series:

We were both struck by this faux Ku Klux Klan photograph in the Pildas exhibition: 

Jason said he didn’t imagine you could get away with that kind of thing on Hollywood Boulevard anymore.  And I said I was kind of surprised you could get away with it even in the early seventies.  These days Hollywood feels like a perfectly safe and civilized place. 

I’m not sure just how much of a walker Jason is, but I dug out an interview with him in which he said that Thomas Bernhard’s novel Correction “is the nearest book I have found to a Bible. This relentless novel addresses every major theme: the trials and torments involved in becoming an authentic, autonomous human being; the problematics of writing; even the meaning and possibilities — as well as impossibilities — of architecture. All of it suffused with the blackest of humour and told in Bernhard’s inimitable, incantatory prose. It’s writing taken to the limit.”

         I’m a fan of Bernhardt too and although I haven’t read Correction I do know that its narrator writes, "A description of the road from Altensam to us in Stocket and a description of the road from Stocket to Altensam, naturally two entirely different descriptions…"  But of course.  Later in the book Bernhard says, “Who had the idea of letting people walk around on the planet, or something called a planet, only to put them in a grave, their grave, afterwards?”  Well, who indeed?

After we’d seen the Pildas exhibition we went for a brief drift, and I was muttering a few platitudes about Hollywood Boulevard being some kind of crucial indicator of the state of Los Angeles, that of course it had once been seedy and dangerous, but it was gentrifying just like everywhere else in LA, and compared with the bad old days it’s positively a haven of calm and safety. 

At which point we were both hit in the face by some kind of liquid, and we looked around and saw a laughing crazy young black man hurrying rapidly away. We could see he had some kind of squirt bottle in his hand, with which he’d no doubt squirted us, but it was all very sudden and we were too slow to think about pursuing him.  And of course we wondered what was in the bottle, and then a guy from a local open-fronted restaurant came up and said, “Did that guy just squirt something at you?” And we said yes, and this guy had been squirted too, and we said to each other, “Do you think it’s water or something worse?” and we more or less agreed that it probably was water, but it took us a while before we were absolutely certain. Obviously we agreed that it could easily have been something much worse.  And maybe back in the 70s it would have been something much worse.  But it did suggest that Hollywood Boulevard hasn’t quite become Disneyland, which on balance is a good thing, I suppose.

Here's a link to the LACE, Pildas Exhibition: