AFTER THE GLITTER FADES – PASSENGER AND THE PAPARAZZI

When bands on the road roll into town, they usually are looking for some hedonistic Hollywood fun and want to see the sights: The Capitol building. Lemmy’s barstool at the Rainbow. The Viper Room sidewalk where River died…the beach. Often times the cool indie rock chick in Los Angeles can fall into the role of platonic fluffer. This can be a nice change for a local girl as she can give a tour and see the sour city with fresh and glitter soaked eyes.

I gave up giving tours several years ago. After a few platonic friendships crossed the line into the murkiness of long distance love, followed by a looong spell with a live-in boyfriend, I became too busy, too important, to drive around the city with a band in tow. But something about the lads in the British import band Passenger, made me change my tune.

Passenger came to my tv show via Brighton and were sent to me by the gals at Girlie Action. Lead singer Mike Rosenberg, a baby face with a sharp wit and old soul, proved to be a ready opponent for my snark and subversive interview style. Their performance was impressive enough to raise my jaded ass’s interest and I actually stayed in the studio to watch.

Passenger
Passenger

Still with a good show in the can, I didn’t suspect I’d see them again. The invite to a gig after a taping is something I normally deflect with a lame excuse, more often than not. But that night, when out searching for my first meal of the day, I found myself pulling up in front of the Hotel Café.

Yeah, I know. The Hotel Café. While I had created a new singer songwriter show, Songwriter’s Stage, for Vlaze TV, it isn’t exactly a haunt that you’d ever find me in. No offense to the many talented songsmiths and troubadours that perform there…I just like my music with a healthy serving of edge and vitriol.

Mike Rosenberg of Passenger
Mike Rosenberg of Passenger

Perhaps it’s the fact that Passenger’s comparisons to David Gray are a bit misleading. Yes, the melodies are soft and pretty and the harmonies give it that Starbucks song-of-the-week feel. But those who have likened Mike’s lyrical sense to Nick Drake are a bit more on the money. Drake and a lethal dose of biting British self deprecation. That’s the combo I’m all about. An ironic fist in a velvet glove.

So, while I normally distance myself from the interview subject, that evening I found myself on an all night adventure. The guys took me to an odd house party with two grand pianos and a Fuse TV crew goading us into doing fake vodka shots for their program about ‘partying’. It was somewhat amusing to watch Mike and guitarist Stephen’s faces as they took in all the bizarre pre-mating habits of fringe Angelinos on the make.

“What a perfect Hollywood party to have gone to.” one of them remarked.

“Oh, this is by no means what a Hollywood party is like.“ I corrected.

For one thing there was no hosted open bar from a booze company that no one has ever heard of. No unemployed actors serving expensive appetizers in honor of a major movie release. No DJ with his stage name in glittery sticker letters across his laptop, pumping out banging disco house music. There were no roving club kid photogs goading under age kinds to pull their tops down for a moment of cyber fame. There wasn’t even a celebrity sighting.

In fact, the only real Hollywood thing I was able to show them was the La Brea tar pits – I drove them over to Wilshire, prepping them on the monument to our pre-historic predecessors. As I pulled my convertible up to LACMA, their faces fell.

“That’s it?” Their manager, Dan, yelled. “Those don’t look like woolly mammoths. They’re like cartoon fiberglass elephants. Fooking ‘ell!”

I had failed as a tour guide.

Luckily last week I had the chance to redeem myself. The boys were hopping back across the pond to support the drop of their album Wicked Man’s Rest. I bought me some spf 50, map quested Zuma Beach and rsvped to every annoying pool party and drink fest that came across my email spam box.

Dinner at Jones and a small gathering at the Woods with James Murphy in attendance, was a nice evening out for Passenger…but where was the gin soaked night? The evening of excess? The morning after where you aren’t quite sure where you are or which playmate you woke up next to? I’d have to try harder.

Passenger performed again at the Hotel Café. Even though only six weeks had passed, their performance was so much tighter and dynamic. I got chills listening to Mike warble songs such as Things You Never Done and Table For One. And the upbeat single about stalking (which was just banned by a radio station) Night Vision Binoculars, got the early dinner crowd clamoring to meet them afterwards.

Stephen & Mike of Passenger at the Hotel Cafe
Stephen & Mike of Passenger at the Hotel Cafe

Now, I suppose that too many years spent up all night and sleeping all day has jaded me. My smooth skin belies the time I’ve spent partying hard, and hitting the bottle harder. But a domestic partnership, a serious illness and a jaded ‘been there, done that’ glaze has seriously mellowed me out. My idea of wild fun would have been punk rock karaoke or maybe splurging on a really expensive bottle of wine. I must admit I’ve become more of a boho hipster, rather than a fun-thirsty scenester.

Passenger must have sensed this. Which is probably why they left nothing to chance this time and had their management company make a reservation at a club called Villa. Yeah, that Villa. As in the Villa I only know of from the check-out lane tabloids. Passenger told me the Weho address and I sniffed at it, snobbishly.

“I don’t go west of Fairfax Ave.” I chided.

“Why not?” They asked.

“You’ll see.” I warned.

The MacLean-mobile pulled up to what once was the yuppie pub, Sloans. Now transformed into Villa, the place looked like a Kubrick wet dream. White silk cord ropes hung draped from the ceiling. A giant stuffed peacock competed for attention with a giant silver hot air balloon and a white Apollo space suit. The walls were frescoed with paintings of books as if the Eyes Wide Shut orgies had spilled into a billionaire’s library.

The place was gorgeous. That is, until the clientele arrived.

If reality television had spawned a nightclub, then this is where they would come for re-runs. Every fake tanned, fake-titted girl teetering on heels, in a too short t-shirt-cum-dress, came in hungry for attention. It made me do a double take in a way that even blatant beastiality would fail to. It was so…Jerry Springer episode: Tanorexic oompaloompa girls and the trucker hatted dudes who love them.

If this place is supposedly good for spotting stars, then where were they? Where the hell was gorgeous Villa denizen Jonathan Rhys Myers? Where was Johniston or Brangelina? Was the lack of wattage because it was karaoke night? And why was Lukas Haas checking email on his Sidekick WHILE he was on stage singing Bitter Sweet Symphony? That’s enough to make The Verve break up again. Permanently.

“The décor is wasted on these people.” I remarked “None of them know what those strange oblong things called books are.”

“No.” Stephen agreed. “They probably call it ‘the wall with good children’s names’.”

“Yes, like Gatsby Silverstein. Or Nietzsche Jones.”

I shudder to think. Makes Apple Martin or Pilot Inspektor Lee sound kind a good Christian name. Doesn’t it?

We stepped outside for a cigarette to a hail of flashbulbs. That horrible swarm of parasitic paparazzi that you see on TMZ, were in the flesh outside of the club. Even with a little experience walking down a red carpet, I was a bit taken aback.

“Is this what it’s like when you go out in Hollywood?” Mike asked.

“NO.” I stammered. “This is how the other half live. I’m an east side hipster. We stick to indie rock, red wine and artistic integrity.”

Mike and Ali On The Air outside Villa nightclub
Mike and Ali On The Air outside Villa nightclub

Actually what we were witnessing wasn’t exactly how the other half of LA lives. It’s really more like an eighth…the real Hollywood stars don’t hang out at Villa on a Monday night. They go to bed for an early call to the set the next morning. Or they attend a charity function where the swag bags include strands of black pearls and complimentary blackberrys. No, this type of Hollywood crowd is a very specific breed. The ‘dancing with the d-list’ kinda crowd. The reality TV has-been kinda crowd. And that includes you, Miss so-called World 2006.

Almost as if on cue, two of the perma-tanned d cup girls came out for a cigarette, and the parasites went crazy, clicking and sticking microphones into their faces. I couldn’t tell you who these trollops were, or what they possibly had to say that would hold anyone’s interest…but someone was paying the shutterbugs to capture their every move.

“Who are they?” Stephen asked.

“I dunno. Maybe they’re Hef’s playmates? Or maybe they’re on some reality show.” I offered.

“What show would that be, ‘Surgical Mistakes’? Stephen quipped. No doubt coming soon on Spike TV.

Mike & Stephen give the paparazzi a Brighton greeting
Mike & Stephen give the paparazzi a Brighton greeting

This was exactly the part of Hollywood that out-of-towners want to see, but are then very sorry when they do. It’s an embarrassment to someone like me to try and explain away why America is fascinated by this type of vapid vomit. It’s a peek behind the curtain at what glamour really ISN’T about.

Perhaps I should have stuck with ferrying them on a trip to the Sunset Strip. Even though the brains over there aren’t exactly firing on all cylinders either, at least it’s fun to watch the crowd that hasn’t made it past 1986. Watching someone like Vince Neil imbibe and make an ass of himself seems almost wholesome next to this slutbag contest. This was just…depressing.

It also served as a reminder to me underlining the fact that mediocrity and grotesque reign over talent and beauty. Why is Passenger, with their gorgeous melodies, playing an early slot at the Hotel Café? While Heidi Montag of The Hills is singing at Universal Ampitheater?!? Why, in a town of creative people, do we allow this to happen? Why can’t we urge everyone to stop reading OK magazine and stop tivoing Sunset Tan? Why couldn’t I convince any of my friends to go see the free Shakespeare in the park this summer? And who the hell greenlit Don’t Mess With The Zohan?

I will stab my eyeballs with a fork before I see this tripe
I'd rather stab my eyeballs with a fork

No seriously. I mean it. For fuck’s sake! I want to know who greenlit it, and I want his head on a platter!

Frankly I’m tired of having to go to the BBC for good comedy via Gervais and Izzard. I’m hoping that by the time I re-read my worn out copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, another Sedaris will be published. I’m really, really, really hoping Vicky Christina Barcelona will beat House Bunny at the box office but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Perhaps that’s what Silverlake is for. A place on the east side for those of us cultural snobs to retire to, after the glitter fades. We’ve drunk ourselves into an oblivion, partied like rockstars and watched our creative dreams slowly erode. So we barricade ourselves beyond the 101 beltway, light candles for Elliot Smith, eat at vegan bistros, and keep working on the great American novel or album.

Elliot Smith tribute wall
Elliot Smith tribute wall

When a group of lads like Passenger come to Los Angeles, I want to have something worthy of them to show them. Something smart. Something thoughtful. Something truly glamorous – the type of glamour that inspired De Mille, Hawks, Altman and Allen.

I know I’m not responsible for the entire city of Babylon. But I am a citizen here and so I must accept that this is how it is, or change it. After all, it’s been years and I still live here. I could live anywhere in the world. It must be because somehow that promise of glamour, of greatness, of creative utopia is still somewhat alive. Perhaps like the song, the feeling remains, even after the glitter fades.

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