an ongoing story about moving west to east.
You think you can.
I mean, in theory, if you can conceive of something it can be done and relatively easily enough at that.
Right? It’s simple.
The difficult concepts to grasp are rarely realized. They’re tanglier balls of yarn, requiring years of planning and brute talent to achieve.
The easy to perceive must be low-hanging fruit in the path to success. Therefore in one’s mind, if it can be imagined, then why even try? If, for example, in the creation of post-modern art, you just could do it if you really wanted to?
Jump right in, sacrifice a few Saturday nights for the cause. You’re a martyr; you’re serious.
Tell everyone. The rest will take care of itself.
Perhaps this is where the term “wantrepreneur” comes from, an adage sprung from the alleged slash generation (ex: Writer/DJ/Producer). We proclaim to do it all, even if the output is somewhat self-serving and to a degree lackluster.
Ambitious people usually harbor one (or all) of the following traits:
They perpetually want what they can’t have; they think they can have it all; or they’re too impatient to try all the angles.
Perhaps this is why post-modern art has lost its general sense of identity.
To do something great the only person motivating you is yourself — everyone else is too busy concerning themselves with their own survival. Therein lies the flaw and the Unfair of the whole system. How will you keep going? Because how the hell do you know if you’re any good?
Ambitious people also harbor a rich sense of delusion.
We’re so amazing yet our day job is draining and there won’t be time left in the day outside of binge-watching Scandal and drinking bottles of cheap wine while imagining a brighter future wherein we can finally do what we “really” want to do.
Paradoxically, the reality is that without that sense of delusion you’re reduced to being ambitious about being ambitious, and simply too conflicted to get it done or even try.
Technically, the most rewarding part should be the process itself.
Passion is not craving some allegorical gold star. It’s dedication — dirty, messy, nose-to-the-grindstone work. It’s coffee and late nights and getting really mad all the time over the little details (like for example using too many pronouns).
It’s not as sexy as some hand-lettered, calligraphic print of the word “hustle” but it is the timeless truth.
I stopped writing when I was 12 after a drunk uncle on my mom’s side told me that he wanted to read my stories. I picked it back up twenty years later, only because it was something I had to do in order to make sense of the world around me at the time.
Rumination is hard in LA. In New York it’s a fact of life.
And there’s a difference between accepting failure and not working hard enough to take a square shot at success in the first place.
I’m glad I hit pause on my radio show. It became the impetus that brought me to this page. Despite what some asshole says on Facebook, failure IS an option. It paves the way for bigger and better things.
My mixes are in the archives but the process lives on. I’ve learned that one significant hurdle of creating good work is the mental anguish that lies distinctly beyond any point of generational languor. It’s a physical and mental game so exhausting since in the end you’re solely relying on, and battling against, yourself.
I’d work it over in my mind countless times before even stepping foot inside the studio.
When I was there I’d bang my head against the wall. Not because I didn’t have an audience (or a key) but because it wasn’t good enough work yet — it wasn’t even in the neighborhood of being good.
I’d get so mad when I couldn’t get it right on the first take, or even the tenth. After the twentieth I’d have a demo in my hands soaked in blood and fervor. With cradled, shaking hands I’d proffer it to an established DJ, grateful for his kindness in mentoring my progress. As he listened I watched him pull a face — he cringed, because it wasn’t ready just yet.
Eventually the twentieth take dwindles to a tenth, then a fifth. I sounded more natural on the mic and the mixes became tighter. I felt more comfortable. And then, something miraculous happened — I stopped giving a shit what anyone thought about it. I started doing it for myself.
And oddly enough, that’s when the work got good.
Much has been said about the deluded self-confidence of entrepreneurs. I believe this applies to artists too - but it mostly arrives during the mastery of process.
The confidence is in the sweat. It’s in the passion.
You take what you’ve earned after all those takes and confidence quietly follows.
You build a support system designated for healthy maturity and growth. Even if you have no idea where it will lead, you meet people who can help you find a general direction.
Most of us need to be a spokesperson on behalf of our art. We perform double duty as an agent, provocateur, coach. Then we go home and pace nervously in the kitchen drinking more crap wine, because we know — despite the decent progress we’ve made — that the work isn’t ready yet. The wantrepreneur baby has no clothes.
You attend didactically-minded gatherings involving sweaty handshakes with strangers and copious amounts of free alcohol, otherwise known as networking. You get lost on the way, swearing to yourself in quick huffs of air.
You take a moment to pace nervously in front of the door, eventually summoning some semblance of self-composure that involves a smile that may or may not look more like a smirk order to appear casual as though you simply decided to stroll right in.
No big deal.
Smile and nod and try not to panic when someone asks you what you’re working on.
Simultaneously, deliberately kick out that annoying voice in your head — you know the one. The coach and cynic, the lawyer and defrauder, the demonic inner critic that wants to destroy you from the inside out anytime someone so much as raises an eyebrow when you describe what you’re passionate about doing in life.
You leave covered in sweat. Your armpits are wet and you’re tired of talking. Otherwise, you leave the same as you came in, perhaps with the addition of two business cards tucked safely in your back pocket.
After some time you get good, real good. Work the room, collect some cards, become your most effusive and exuberant self. After the twentieth event it becomes easier. You have a routine down. You go alone, leaving the demons at home.
Until, you move to a new city and decide to pursue a completely different craft.
In Los Angeles, one can get by through smiling and nodding a lot. Be social, ask questions, be sympathetic, have a cocktail. Act bemused, conspiratorial even. You will be sized up but generally accepted once someone “feels” that they “understand” you.
In New York it’s more important to be direct. They want to know who you are, what you do, and how you can help them.
That’s it. Tell them what you do, and ask for what you want.
Smile less. Speak less.
Throw in a prop, like a decent pair of glasses (they MUST be prescription, don’t even think about fronting there).
Do not wear fun shoes unless by fun we mean clever and in general their estimated pre-tax worth is greater than or equal to $300.
You learn quickly to sharpen up.
And, of course, you will be judged.
I have a tough time telling people that I like to write. My old show — now I could talk about that all day. It took years to get comfortable enough to do that, because I struggled to get the work to a place that didn’t suck. And while I never got great, I did learn what it takes to get there.
Whichever the craft, many of the same challenges still apply. Those self-confidence and mental barriers will always be there, clinging along for the ride.
When it comes down to it we all have a passion of some sort. And when you’re putting in that deep work that is so meaningful it doesn’t even matter if it sees the light of day — that’s where the good stuff begins. You’re the hero.
I’ll never know if I’m any good. But that’s what it means to be great.
For my friends in LA. You know who you are.
Like most stories that take place in Los Angeles, this one begins on wheels.
The first thing we did was lease a car. My Dad and I took Route 66 all the way out to the ocean, to the Toyota dealership that sat at the intersection of Santa Monica and Lincoln boulevard.
It was a Scion Xa, the debut of an economic offering from Toyota. Fittingly enough the model was placed squarely at my demographic - a recent college grad under 30 with a strong interest in beat-driven music and the “alternative” and “edgy” segment of craft otherwise known as street art.
All in all it was a good little car. It shook on the freeway on a windy day but the speakers were good, and the price was right.
The second thing we did was turn on KCRW.
I nodded. “Yeah, it kinda does.”
The next morning I went on a job interview which would be the first of many.
I fidgeted with the staple in the corner of my resume, opening and smoothing the corners of paper as I pretended to not see Robert Downey Jr. pacing the smooth concrete floor in his sneakers, track pants and oversized blazer. This was around the time he was fresh from rehab and wrapping his first and only record album.
Looking back, my first months in LA were jam-packed with celebrity sightings. Once at the gym I ran next to Will Ferrell on a treadmill (This was during his training for the Boston Marathon). Another time I found myself in the grocery line behind Michael Richards aka “Kramer” from Seinfeld.
Eventually I became friends with folks who found success in their own right. It was a particular form of identification within the three dimensional world that was so thrilling early on. “You’re real!”
Perhaps these sightings decreased over time because that little car eventually minimized its radius, or maybe it was simply that I stopped looking around.
In my second interview at the music house an executive producer posed the age-old question about what I “wanted to do.” Rather than twerking the answer to fit the scope of the conversation, I responded, in that youthful earnest truth, that I wasn’t sure just yet.
The application of my recently acquired Master’s degree didn’t have time to sink in (or so I convinced myself). Sure, the two years I spent deep in Foucault and Marx and Borges had cracked my brain wide open and put it back together in interesting ways, but like most liberal arts degrees its practical use within the working world had yet to be established.
I was smart, malleable on intent, and technically savvy enough to be placed somewhere within the “new media” sector of the entertainment industry. Although, if I had to choose between that and some vague position in anything related to music - even at the very bottom of the totem pole - I’d still choose music. So, eventually I did.
Here I was, interviewing for a coordinator position at a music production house, all because I had found a home several times over with other misfits in the shabby confines of a radio station - an industry about to be completely taken over by blogs and automation and predictive algorithms otherwise known in their infancy as the music genome project.
I’m pretty sure I blew it at this point in the interview when I began outwardly questioning her taste in rock music. I didn’t understand the bands she cited, and didn’t want to pretend to. They weren’t indie enough. There was mainstream radio at play. Which, in my mind, was not even up for debate.
She told me something I’ll never forget. She said that in order to be a music producer you needed to prepare yourself for burnout. It simply wasn’t “sustainable” over the course of one’s career to be working day and night, torn between demanding clients while tending to musicians who required constant supervision. At the age of 35 she was ready to retire. Caveat emptor. I never forgot that.
Outside of musical snobbery perhaps it was millennial lassitude that contributed to my difficulty in finding a job during those early months in LA. I was used to turning things over in my mind and having some sort of output that way. If money wasn’t a factor, perhaps I’d remain in the educational system forever - a female Buster Bluth, fumbling from major to major with no real dedication to the grind.
I was lucky because my parents assisted me financially back then. They helped me move into the first apartment I shared with a fellow Emerson grad. My Dad slept on the floor that first night, sticking around the next morning to make sure the wifi was properly installed.
My parents wanted to help as long as I was willing to put in the effort to do good and make it on my own. Their help may have made my life slightly more comfortable and protected but I do believe that in the end, given a natural penchant for finding trouble, I was not only thankful but much better off.
People are strange, and as I ventured out of my comfort zone I eventually found enough temptation, risk, and heartbreak on my own.
But enough about that.
I took an unpaid internship at an indie record company in Orange County, showing up my first day in pressed black slacks and a collared shirt from Banana Republic - a uniform leftover from my grad school days working for an executive recruiting firm in downtown Boston.
The head of marketing looked me up and down over the top of his gradient sunglasses, jangling the keys to a new Mercedes in one hand and doing something on his Blackberry with the other.
The building was painted bright yellow on the inside with records everywhere - framed on the walls, stacked in piles on the floor and crated in boxes ready to ship. Large, rectangular skylights cut from the chapel-like ceiling allowed bright sunshine to perpetually pour in.
He was a fun boss to have, always offering up industry gossip under the guise of “advice” while he wasn’t on the phone schmoozing somebody. Twice a week he drove us to Wahoo’s Fish Tacos for lunch. The car was filthy, with music paraphernalia everywhere and the small smoked down nubs of joints cluttering the ashtray.
Every night it took two hours to drive home, my own car’s plasticky interior glinty and glamorous in comparison, as I dodged and weaved my way up the 405.
A few nights later I drove up to Hollywood and Highland.
I maneuvered into a parking spot and checked my eye makeup in the rearview mirror, clearing any glitter that fell below my lower lashline with a self-conscious swipe of the finger. For the first time of many, I scampered down Hollywood Boulevard in stilettos towards the Knitting Factory.
Stars were everywhere - on the sidewalk, shooting from my eyes.
I met my friend W and a few of his friends in line at the entrance (this was years before he was famous and we could walk right in). He had made the move a year earlier himself, also from the east coast. I told him how much I was utilizing KCRW during my new commute.
“You’re going to get a job there someday, huh?” He said.
I nodded. “I guess, probably, sure - if I’m lucky!”
A few weeks later, he helped me land a full-time, paying job at a different music house located in Venice.
I had a professor in college who, at the beginning of each semester, would resolutely state that “the first job you take will cast your fate.” He said it with such gravitas that we really believed what he was saying to be absolutely true.
In retrospect, this was a sobering scare tactic for everyone in the classroom - particularly a freshman who had little to no idea what she was doing there in the first place.
What if I took the first job offer I received and it was a complete miscalculation, eventually leading me down a path where I had to start over? Was there such thing as a wrong path, or just a right path for that particular time and place, later to be rehashed or iterated upon?
And, by the way, who’s crazy enough to turn down a paying job in this economy? To this day I still think about it.
As it turned out, the gig at the music house turned out to be a good one for that particular time and place.
The company was a start up in every sense of the word. They represented up-and-coming indie bands for licensing and worked with composers to create original music for advertising. The labels we represented were some of the coolest and most interesting in the country. It was a plum job to have - full of hustle, and I was learning a lot.
I learned about “production”, or, talking a composer down from a drug-riddled comedown so we could deliver stems for a Mercedes Benz spot by the next morning. I learned about “partner relations,” or, taking the guys from The Faint to Little Joy because they were in town and looking for something to do. I learned how to be scrappy and resourceful. I learned that we’re all human and a tad crazy in the best possible way.
As laid back as Venice was, there was a piece of me that remained loyal to the superficial fabulousness of LA. The city was mystical, outrageous, subversive and flossy all at the same time.
In some ways it was like New York - diverse and full of opportunity.
And then there were the elements that made it, well, LA. The gyms, the nightclubs (before dive bars were cool), the salons and lifestyle ingested from tabloid magazines. I went on fasts and cleanses, visited an acupuncturist and hired a trainer, embracing all the wacky, high maintenance possibilities of having such a city at one’s disposal.
There was downtown with its shiny high rise loft buildings. There was Chinatown, Little Tokyo, MOCA, and the shimmering Walt Disney Concert Hall to explore, with skid row reverberating quietly in the background.
There was Silver Lake in all its indie rock glory, West Hollywood with its fluffy spot-on pop zeitgeist, and Hollywood where a part of ones identity was to retain the divine belief that dreams were executed in slow-motion fits of sublime exaggeration.
Further north was the Hollywood Hills, where homes were stuff dreams were made of - stunning architectural gems tucked safely within lush landscaping only to be accessed by unassuming and crumbling, winding roads.
Heading west into the spread of Pacific Palisades where the air is the cleanest, grass the greenest, and sky is the brightest and most pristine you could possibly behold with the naked eye. Even when the weather was bad it retained some sort of majesty.
From there, you could take the turn at Sunset Boulevard from the north to head to Malibu, or take the West Channel Road south to Santa Monica, a beach town soundly identified by an iconic pier and ferris wheel.
In the distance, seagulls flew high above and came to rest lightly among the tourists, locals, the rich and homeless, forming a community in this once-sleepy beach town now home to shopping behemoth Santa Monica Place and the much hyped but under delivered alleged technology hotbed otherwise known as Silicon Beach.
Venice was just south of there.
Everyone I knew in Venice was getting high when they weren’t busting their butt at work. I didn’t want to be like that - 35 years old and burnt out, listening to unimaginative rock while being self-satisfied with the status-quo I managed to evade. Sure it was intriguing, especially for anyone who’s ever seen Californication, but right off the bat I knew it wasn’t for me.
I hid from many networking opportunities early on, preferring to duck out for the occasional happy hour with a select group of friends and co-workers. As I got to know the city more venturing from my comfort zone became easier. I started to attend conferences, listening parties, and other events around town.
I began to slowly build a network. I joined a bocce ball league, where every Tuesday various creative folks would take Rose avenue down to Venice beach and throw balls in the sand until the hot orange sun sank with a resonating decrescendo into the shimmering depths of the horizon.
And eventually, I would land that job at KCRW.
It was a phenomenal time to be living in Los Angeles. Culturally, everything was evenly distributed and ripe for discovery. There was a burgeoning art scene and a well of venues paving the way for emerging music scenes. Farm-to-table was just starting to pop. My so-called disposable income couldn’t contribute to the emerging fashion scene. You either had style, or, you didn’t.
I drove all over the place, from gallery openings in Culver City to fashion parties downtown. I’d find myself at big concerts, crowded house parties, and tiny shows in the basement of a dingy bar (the best kind). We ate cheap sushi, had dinner parties, and experienced molecular gastronomy. We dated guys nicknamed Hot Photographer and Brit 2.0 and Mark Close-Talker and CoWo.
Most Tuesday nights we’d go to Cinespace, adhering to the credo that “Tuesday is the new Saturday.” If you didn’t arrive early you’d wind up in a line that snaked around the block. Free drinks flowed as a young Steve Aoki manned the turntables and the Cobrasnake captured the style of the crowd. Everyone went. I’ve been told Katy Perry was a regular. This was right before “I Kissed A Girl” dropped and made her a household name.
The week after my first visit to the Knitting Factory I saw the Radar Brothers play at El Cid. Jim Putnam sat on a bar stool, eyes closed, deeply immersed in song. I leaned in to my friend Paul. “How did we get here?”
“It’s the best form of escapism,” he replied. “Just nod sympathetically, take a swig of your beer and sway.”
And so I did.