Since my post the other day my inbox has been flooded as I’ve been inundated with request to regale you with my last trip to La La Land when the Prince of Pop Warner passed away. Well, it was a little over a year ago, and I had a video shoot at a car dealership in Pasadena. The manager of that dealership is a nice guy and he invited me to go to the grand opening of his friend’s Laserium at world famous Hollywood and Vine the day before the shoot. So my friend/coworker at the time and I headed south for this momentous occasion.
This friend happens to be one of my shadier friends (If you are reading this, sorry, but you know it’s true. Your mind resides in a darker place than most people I surround myself with are willing to go.) so of course he is very familiar with the LA area. He makes regular trips there, as he is probably the only person in the world who smuggles drugs from the Bay Area to sell in LA. (Don’t worry, it is very minor stuff, not the hard stuff, and is only sold to his friend.) On a side note, don’t do drugs. Your old hero Michael Balistreri doesn’t. Never have, never will. Unless you’re one of those prudes who counts alcohol as a drug. As I’ve said before, I’m a social drinker. It’s all about responsibility and moderation kids!
So my friend and I headed out to LA, there were no drugs with us as this was purely a work trip. We got in our rented purple PT Cruiser, and somehow my speed demon friend got that crappy car to fly down to Hollywood in record time. We left about half an hour late and still got there early! We parked near the famous Capitol Records building, met up with the dealership manager and his family, and wandered the area a bit. I believe smoothies were involved. Then we went to the Laserium and got our special passes. Next came the waiting in line for the doors to open. This lasted a while as we eagerly watched all the C List celebrities arrive. I recall Marla Maples and the black guy from CSI New York were amongst the elite.
As we were waiting the news media showed up to cover the event. It was for a Spanish speaking station and they had cameras that were no better than the one we had brought for our shoot. The media had apparently just got word of Michael Jackson, though it seemed unclear that he was dead, just that something had happened. This got all the line waitees talking and debating, with most believing that it couldn’t be true. Many people got on their smart phones to search for news results, but it was awhile before it became clear that he had indeed died.
Well, this news didn’t seem to have much impact on anyone as we all still stood around in line, and many people changed the subject. Eventually the doors opened and we entered the old movie theater that had been crudely updated to serve as the Laserium. I was excited because they were supposed to feature a dance club and an instrument where women danced in beams of light to create music. Well, those things were to come later, not at the grand opening. Instead I was treated to a Beatles laser light show that could have easily been done in the 70s. To make it worse it was less impressive because it was not in a round planetarium style dome, but a traditional movie theater that made it hard to watch. My friend was disappointed that we got stuck with the Beatles show instead of the Pink Floyd or his favorite, Led Zeppelin. It’s somewhat ironic that we got the Beatles when you consider that the man who owned so much of their music had just died.
The show ended and our group wandered around the streets looking at all the celebrities stars on the sidewalk. We decided to go to dinner and drove a short way to a multi story outdoor mall. It was a very impressive place. We had some Johnny Rockets and listened to a live band give a concert. I don’t remember who they were as it wasn’t my type of music, but I do recall they were fairly famous as I was familiar with their name and a couple songs. After listening to that for awhile we said goodbye to the group. It was starting to get cold so we went to the car for jackets. On the way I saw the most LA thing possible: A blonde woman, who looked like she had seen some plastic surgery in her time, was crying hysterically at the top of a stopped escalator as paramedics tended to the bleeding paw of her Chihuahua. It was nuts!. Her blonde friends looked pretty upset as well. Because the escalator was stopped we had to take the stairs. On the way down we bumped into the unmistakable Adam Corolla, who was coming up. He was in a conversation, but still had time to give me a stern look, I assume for eyeballing him like the tourist I was.
We got our jackets and decided to investigate the red carpet premiere that was happening at the most famous theater in the world, the Mann Chinese Theater, which was just next to the mall. It turned out the premiere was for Bruno, so of course this attracted a lot of weirdos. Also strangely appropriate when you consider who died that day. The place was lousy with people in every kind of costume imaginable. Costumes and people who had nothing to do with the movie, but were so starved for attention they’d do anything to get it. Sacha Baron Cohen was there in character, and drove out from behind a secret curtain in a full sized military tank. Oh, the tank was very sparkly, as if it had been painted in silver glitter.
There was a disruption at the premiere when Michael Jackson fans decided they needed to gather at his star to start a shrine. The star happened to be under some of the red carpet. So the staff had to stop some of the events and lift up the carpet in this spot so these troglodytes could put crap around a piece of cement that had Michael Jackson’s name on it. In a moment of true beauty that demonstrates what our country is all about, people were already selling very poorly made T-shirts and similar products to commemorate the life and death of Jackson. Oh, and people were buying this crap that had been made in the last couple hours.We hung out there for awhile and one of the theater workers told me about his contempt for Hollywood and why his job sucked until we decided to leave.
From here we wandered the mean streets of Hollywood after dark, trying to meet up with our producer friend who happened to be in town (I believe for the BET awards). All the buildings in the area had steel grated pull down doors to lock up their business, and each one had a celebrity painted on it. That was pretty cool. Everything else was not. It was a gross place that stunk, had garbage everywhere, and loud drunk and homeless people prowling the streets.
From here we took to driving as my friend gave me a tour of LA night hot spots. While driving we tried to meet up with our producer friend a few more time, and my we tried to see my coworker’s gambling buddy because he wanted to go to a special poker room and wager some cash. His buddy only woke up at like 10:30 PM! We ended up not meeting up with anyone and going to a famous bakery and a huge sidewalk newspaper stand.
Finally we drove to Pasadena and found a decent hotel (not an easy task), which we checked into at about 1AM. We watched some news before bed and literally everything on was about Michael Jackson. People were going nuts! My favorite was the guy who happened to have a huge college of Michael (mostly young Michael) on his desk at work that he was able to take out on the street and share with the other sheep. Sleep came quickly after that. The next morning, which was a Friday, we had that video shoot at the dealership at around 9AM. We got up, got ready for work, and watched some more TV. Still everything was about Jackson. How would his death impact traffic? (A real concern as his mourners had annoyingly decided to gather in the streets at various spots in the area) It was insane and I’ve never seen a death get so much attention.
After we were ready we went to work on time, and although we were tired and it was hotter then hell we did our jobs well. In fact I went above and beyond dealing with the manager about his website, which caused us to leave late. The drive home was long and bad, despite my friend’s legendary driving skills. The only solace was a giant truck stop where you could seemingly buy anything. We didn’t get home til around 9:30PM. And that was the most recent time I’ve been to LA.
In case you’re wondering I did not care about Michael Jackson’s death. To me he was just this old, weird has been whose music was not that good to begin with. Despite what anyone says he had not been relevant in a long, long time and his career had piqued about two decades ago. I know he had a tour planned, but that means nothing. Has beens tour all the time leeching off of their past glories. Look at the Rolling Stones, who haven’t put out a decent song since the 70s. All Jackson had been known for in the last twenty years was being a freak with bizarre personal activities and illegal fetishes. An childlike bastion of innocence? Far from it. A perverse and twisted rendition of it, perhaps.
Following the death I had to endure almost everyone in the world suddenly pretending to be a die hard fan, many people whom I had never heard mention the man as long as I’d known them. As my friend Holden would say, “What a bunch of phonies.” This happens with every celebrity death and it sickens me. Most recently everyone online was suddenly a huge Harvey Pekar fan. Really? Oh wait, not anymore because that only lasted for a day. Michael Jackson’s death was definitely the epitome of this phenomenon and lasted the longest. Every station had to play his songs as tribute, though they never played them in their normal circulation. We were bombarded with specials on TV, and rampant speculation and media coverage of the cause of death. Michael’s ghost even graced us with his presence! Recently we saw some resurgence of this with the one year anniversary, but thankfully everything seems to have died down by now. To all the bandwagon jumpers out there let me say this, get some damn decency and grow a genuine bone in your body!
Hope you all enjoyed that. If this gets a good response perhaps I’ll share some more of my LA stories with you, like the time my Dad almost killed O. J. Simpson during the murder trial!