Posts By Jim Washburn

Sunday, July 8, 2012 / 6:15 pm

Levitated Mass: Some Thoughts on the Rock

I do not care for this megalith about which I bitch.

by Jim Washburn

I haven’t seen “Levitated Mass” in person. I live in Orange County, and, hence, do not need to experience or know anything to form an opinion.

My opinion is that I do not care for this big rock. I care even less for the critics who care for it, which is probably only fair, since some of them care even less for my ilk, the great unwashed.

First, why do I not care for this rock? I suppose it is because I have seen a great many rocks, large and small, generally in their natural habitat, where one is perhaps predisposed to like them since you’ve gone to such a lot of frigging effort over hill and dale to get to where they reside.

I have stood atop huge blocks of marble in the quarries of Carrara. I have beheld the mystical rock formations of New Mexico. I have seen the gaily artificially colored pebbles in a child’s aquarium, and I say to you, this “Levitated Mass” rock is just a damn rock. You would not have gone trekking to Riverside County to see it, not even if Jesus’ face had manifested on its surface.  I do not know that this damn rock has gained a thing by being transported to downtown Los Angeles to sit atop an equally damned ditch.

You can walk under this rock, see, to experience what only lichen and James Franco have experienced before. And then you can walk sideways through the Haunted Shack, pan for gold and take a log flume ride through the Calico mine.

I’m just revealing my bumpkin-ness here, because “Levitated Mass” isn’t some crass attraction; it’s art.  I mean, would Times art critic Christopher Knight have written “quiet dynamism inflects a decidedly sepulchral scene” about the boulder rolling down a manmade slot in Raiders of the Lost Ark, even if the jungle crypt setting was ultra-decidedly sepulchral?

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Monday, June 11, 2012 / 8:37 pm

Something Bitchen This Way Comes

How I spent my summer before it happened.

by Jim Washburn

Gosh, Jim, where have you been lately? Where is that bon vivant boulevardier who for so long seemed to grace every event with his bright wit and dingy smile? What’s with the Fortress of Solitude bit?

Well, I’ve been busy, on one front doing a spot of film feature writing for the Boston Globe newspaper, on another I’ve been selling guitars and sundry stuff on eBay, on yet another I’ve been trying to organize a museum exhibit I’m curating for the Fullerton Museum Center about Orange County in the 1970s, opening July 21 and titled, “Lay Down the Boogie: OC in the Disco Era,” and all the while I’ve been thinking about what I should be writing for FourStory, as, for example, the Lloyd Sippie saga nears its thrilling conclusion. A new chapter’s coming soon, really, and it’s chock full of death and Beatle boots.

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Monday, May 21, 2012 / 12:16 pm

Improve Your Mind with YouTube!

It's the thinking man's waste of time.

by Jim Washburn

If, like me, you’ve been out of college for a long time, you probably miss the mental stimulation that comes from constantly being introduced to new ideas and drugs. Maybe you’ve been thinking, “I should challenge my intellect and go back to college, by crikey.”

Don’t do it! Your psyche, for one thing, can’t take the sticker shock. Back when I went to UC Irvine, tuition was only $230 per semester. That’s pretty much what you’d pay today, but just for parking. That fee is separate from the numerous other ones now tacked onto the basic UC tuition of $4,656, bringing the actual total to $4,716 per quarter, not counting textbooks, lodging and Pringles.

The other thing is, old people look creepy to college kids. They’re not accustomed to being confronted by such dessicated ugliness in their daily lives, and to mask their unease, they’ll nickname you Daddy-O and break your 78s. Until such time as you can be safely cremated, it’s better to just stay indoors and get your groceries delivered.

Fortunately, the miracle of YouTube is right there at your fingertips, with the sights and sounds of the world. You’ll find the wonders of science, the flight of culture, the weight of history, and lots of footage of  college kids puking real drunken puke, eking every bit of experience they can from their folks’ $15,000 annual outlay.

My musician/journalist pal Dan Forte (aka Teisco del Rey) recently sent me a link to a class by jazz pianist Hal Galper. I’ll confess to being utterly unfamiliar with the guy, but he has some great insights into the connection between the mind and what comes out of your instrument, and it’s probably applicable to many other things in life.   

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012 / 4:37 pm

Rodney King for a Day

Will there be fire next time?

by Jim Washburn

Rodney King beating video

What would it take to get you to beat the crap out of someone who was already lying beaten on the ground? An imminent threat to your life? The knowledge that person had done something cruel and horrible to someone you loved? How about if the person just drove fast and didn’t obey your commands with the deference you were accustomed to? How many kicks, taser shots and baton blows would you have to deliver before you felt good about yourself again?

Back on March 3, 1991, it took a taser shot, 56 baton blows, and seven good kicks (resulting in fractured face bones, a broken ankle and a quilt of bruises and lacerations) before LAPD officers felt they’d made their point to Rodney King. King was not a model citizen: He’d attracted authorities’ attention because he was driving drunk at high speed, and he didn’t heed their sirens because the drunk driving would have violated his parole for a previous robbery conviction.

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Friday, April 13, 2012 / 11:15 am

Fighting the Good Fight To the Last

OC concert promoter Ken Phebus did not go quietly into the night.

by Jim Washburn

Ken Phebus

Those of you who own a pickup truck leave yourselves open to years of hauling other people’s lives around. That’s the way of it: If you can carry the load, friends count on you to be there for them. My pickup truck owning friends know when I call that there’s a 30% or greater chance I’ll be asking them to help me schlep something around town. They answer anyway.

Being a writer also comes with assumed obligations, though they’re easier on the back. You get called on to help write everything from friends’ eBay ads to their novels.

And as you get older, and your friends start dying, you write their obituaries and eulogies. I’ve lost so many friends in the past few years that my word processor has begun to feel more like a hearse than a pickup truck.

The load doesn’t get any easier with experience. Each person gone is unique, and it would take far more than a book to even begin doing justice to the life each inhabited. 

The friend this time is Ken Phebus, who died of a heart attack the night before Easter. He changed Orange County’s musical landscape without ever playing a note of the stuff, and without most people ever hearing of him. Ken was a talent buyer. I never liked that title; it sounded like he was a livestock or commodities buyer, when he was a true artist at making good things happen.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2012 / 11:01 am

Injustice’s Jukebox: “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” by Bob Dylan

Of Zimmerman and Zanzinger.

by Jim Washburn

Hattie Carroll

Bob Dylan songs have a way of coming back around. Hark to his 1974 tour with the Band. Watergate was simmering that season, when Nixon and his henchmen were caught ensnared in one lie after another. And on recordings from that tour, you nightly hear the audience ripple with recognition, not to mention Ripple wine, during “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” when Dylan gets to the line, “Even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked.”

Nixon was forced to resign in disgrace later that year, going overnight from “the most powerful man in the world” to a pathetic figure wandering the foggy beach of San Clemente in his black wingtips. Meanwhile Ol’ Bob just kept rolling along.

“It’s Alright Ma” resonated at the time because it was a moment of overdue comeuppance. Nixon had misused government to punish his enemies; to spy on any vaguely liberal, anti-war, student-based or civil rights organization; to illegally expand the Vietnam War when the rest of us wanted us the hell out, and sundry slimy things. One of his Justice Department priorities was to get John Lennon deported from the country, because of all that peace/love jazz. And you know that Bob Dylan’s FBI file must have been among the ones he perused when awake nights in the White House. Dylan had been on the authoritarian right’s radar since the early 1960s, when FBI agents had marked him for interest after his name appeared in a folk magazine article by Phil Ochs, the agents, you see, being busy at the time compiling a file on Ochs.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012 / 7:53 am

An Inconvenient Proof

On the passing of the great climate scientist F. Sherwood Rowland.

by Jim Washburn

F. Sherwood Rowland

I told a friend to shut up the other day.

He’d just climbed into my car and we’d exchanged some chat about the nutty weather, how it was 80 degrees for a couple of days, and then, bam, down in the low 50s. When he derisively offered, “Yeah. So much for Al Gore,” I said, “You can just shut up with that right now.”

That’s unlike me. Generally, I figure everyone’s entitled to hold a wholly uninformed, belligerently ignorant opinion on at least one subject that directly affects the future of nearly every species on the planet.

This day was different, because that morning I’d read about the passing of a great scientist I’d been privileged to interview a couple of times, F. Sherwood Rowland.

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Monday, March 5, 2012 / 4:55 pm

I Love a Parade!

Artist Jorg Dubin does Dallas.

by Jim Washburn

Jorg Dubin and motorcade

My artist friend Jorg Dubin emailed recently with the opportunity to join him on an escapade. He’s one of the few people I know who has escapades: grand art projects; cocktail parties that get him thrown out of Laguna’s Festival of the Arts; party parties where the spanking machine goes nearly unused. Every time he strays beyond the boundaries of polite society, society only embraces him again, because he’s such a capital fellow and fabulous painter. Whether a Dubin canvas depicts a disused Marine air base or a fecund pudenda, you come away a better person for having seen it, especially the latter.

 The activity this time was Laguna Beach’s Patriot’s Day Parade. With the same questing spirit that causes children to stick paper clips into electrical sockets, the parade officials had named Jorg its Artist of the Year.

This inspired him to go for something different, which resulted in him deciding to create a reenactment of John F. Kennedy’s Dallas motorcade, minus the unpleasantness.

Of course, there had been talk of going whole hog, with exploding squibs and such, but that would have been obvious, and not nice.

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Friday, February 24, 2012 / 8:55 am

“Death to Obama!”

Why I don’t do much political commentary these days.

by Jim Washburn

President Obama, more or less

“Man, I can’t wait to read you ripping into Rick Santorum,” one of my friends/readers told me this week. They may have to keep waiting.

Back when I was the rock critic at the OC Register, they suddenly found themselves without a film critic, so I doubled-down and did that gig for several months as well (for no extra pay, of course, and, come to think of it, not even a thank you: that’s how the Register rolled).

I didn’t have to review too many Hollywood films before it became obvious just how formulaic, calculated and pandering they were, so that each film was pretty much like having a monkey sit in your lap that would jerk you off. There was little point in complaining, “No, I’d really rather this little fellow stay out of my pants, thanks,” because the next film and the one after that would be the same damn thing, so really all there left to say was whether Bonzo did a good job or not.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012 / 12:03 am

If You’re Talking About Destruction, Count Everyone Out

How I got a free trip to France.

by Jim Washburn


Resistance is futile, but it is kind of endearing, how the downtrodden masses persist in speaking up for their inalienable rights. Usually, it does little to budge the entrenched powers. Sometimes, protest has an effect for the better, though a promising dawn usually devolves into a grey afternoon of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

As much as we all love mischief, with flaming tires rolling down the street and bricks flying, it just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore as a means of changing things, if it ever did. The form and manner in which people protest has to change.

We—the human race and the poor critters who share our planet—can ill afford old school protest: not economically, but even much more not when considering the world’s finite resources and the scant spiritual capital that is ours to expend. One numbskull hurling a beer bottle filled with gasoline can destroy a building that hundreds of workers did their earnest best to build, using materials that hundreds more strove to wrest from nature. And destroying all that work generally doesn’t change a goddamned thing, except that now the numbskull’s kids will have to play in soot and rubble for years.

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