I Like ‘Girls’


I like girls. Except when I don’t. Sometimes they’re sweet and cuddly. Other times they’re spiteful and selfish. After watching for two seasons on HBO, I’ve decided I love the show Girls. It takes me back to my 20-something days in New York, drinking beer on the stoop and watching my dreams run down the sewer like warm hobo piss. Actually it goes back further than that.

My family got HBO (Home Box Office) in the 70s. Illegally. Back then you’d climb up the telephone pole in your front yard, fiddle with a box of wires connected by coaxial into the house to a bootleg converter that sat on top of the old TV and bam, the TV broadcasted curses!

But cursing was only an appetizer. Something else slithered through that cable. Female nudity. “T&A”. HBO beamed sex comedies with topless ladies on spring break into my pre-pube eye-brain matrix. A “wet t-shirt” contest here. High school pranksters peeping through a hole in the girl’s shower there. America’s puritan ethics shot through a beer funnel of late 70s excess.

Girls. Babes. Fetishized sex objects. Simple, ready and willing. Nobody I knew looked like that. Nobody talked like that. I didn’t fault the films for being unrealistic though; I blamed my dreary, prosaic Long Island suburb for not living up the California ideal.

In the 80s HBO ventured into original scripted fare with of-their-time fodder like Arli$$ and First and Ten – shows as unfunny as they were chauvinistic and sexist. Things changed in the 90s with The Larry Sanders Show. Then Mr. Show. Then Curb Your Enthusiasm. Suddenly you had to have HBO. Subscribers flocked to the original programming, not the stale second-run flicks it presented on repeat. (They still show Larry Crown ten times a month). Eventually the other cable networks jumped on the adult-themed original bandwagon, AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad. It was an American TV renaissance. A new HBO show can be a beacon of interest for series-starved punters.

When Judd Apatow, producer of American hit comedies like The 40-Year Old Virgin, had a development deal with HBO, New York Times columnist David Carr hipped him to a micro-budget digital feature called ‘Tiny Furniture’ – written, directed and starring a smart. funny and adorable 24-year-old butterball named Lena Dunham. The partially autobiographical film had won Best Narrative Feature at SXSW.

Tiny Furniture is a character study that eschews classic story arc. It meanders along at it’s own naturalistic pace. There’s no climax or happy ending – perfect structure for a subsequent series. For Apatow, it was development love at first sight.

Girls is about girls and boys in equal measure. Unlike Apatow’s popcorn laffers and the aforementioned 80s “romps” that inspired him, where static female characters serve as foils for the male leads, every guy on Girls has a full inner life and story arc of their own.

Yet Girls was derided even before it debuted. A mock poster for it changing the title to ‘Nepotism’ popped up on a blog (referring to the fact that a few of the actors came from somewhat privileged backgrounds, as if that’s an anomaly in this biz called show). Then the line became Lena Dunham’s an exhibitoinist, more gallingly with a body that did not resemble the Malibu Beach babes of Crown International.

So, in 2013, nudity on HBO is controversial, especially amongst frustrated writers with Documents folders brimming with unreadable spec scripts, whose sole recourse for not having a NEA-granted photographer mom is the comments section of various TV blogs.

Lena’s father, Carroll Dunham, has also stirred dispute over the nude female figure. In one eminent piece of his, a nude woman crawls into the foreground of a green grass and blue sky horizon (its composition like a preschooler’s fridge art), buttocks spread, the focal point being the area known in the US as the taint (my cat has perfected this pose). One imagines little Lena sneaking into her dad’s studio while he’s mixing turpentine and chirping, “Whatchaworkin’ on daddy?”

“Oh, just touching up the butthole, honey, you know, so it pops, and it’s not overshadowed by the bright bulbous labia.”

Dunham not only treats her audience to a healthy portion of epidermis, she presents her emotional vulnerability, her personality flaws, and every mental imperfection like a psychological peep show.  She borrows her quick (but not cutting) wit from Woody Allen, as much as Dorothy Parker and Fran Lebowitz. With Louis CK or Larry David, she shares the ability to dive into awkward and potentially scarring situations with both observational and situational humor.

In the opening scene of the pilot episode, Hannah (Dunham) is introduced as a needy, immature NYC brat begging her parents for more trust funds to help her be a writer. Here she invites your scorn. The journey from her arrogance and entitlement in that first scene to the broken, gutted and OCD-riddled mess at the end of season two is what establishes GIrls as a brave, funny and compelling study of the human condition.

But to some critics, having a main character who is a struggling wannabe writer is too “insular”, (yet somehow being a relationship columnist on Sex and the City is globally relatable). Then there’s the self-indulgence charge, chastising the narrative freedom that allows her to divert from the story line with self contained episodes like the one where she spends the day banging a hot doctor or the one where she manages to make the awful British girl somewhat sympathetic.

Maybe Girls fans and I are the only ones who spent their 20s (and 30s) floundering through sucky jobs, bad or no sex, depression, insanity, backstabbing friends and, yes, that sense of entitlement that made it all harder to swallow. The truth was never pretty and mostly not at all funny. But every day we stand naked in front of the mirror and find a way to accept our bloated, dent-riddled selves.

It’s easy to picture Dunham, had she not made Tiny Furniture, without the fandom of Judd Apatow, in the same position today as Hannah. Not so easy to see Hannah show-running and starring in an acclaimed HBO series.

Gregg Lopez

Originally published in Saachi Gallery Art & Music Magazine

April 1,2013



Art, Politics

Poster Politics


From a marketing standpoint, Shepard Fairy is a genius. Anybody can nick, say, Jim Fitzpatrick’s Che Guevara poster, silkscreen it and sell it to nascent hippies at an outdoor music fest. It takes true visionary balls to steal wholesale, and continually, the more obscure socio-realist work of artists who used their draftsmanship to topple fascism, and re-purpose it to sell handbags at Saks Fifth Avenue, after of course helping to elect the next Leader of the Free World.

If you lived in a US blue (liberal) state circa 2008, you couldn’t head to the shops without seeing at least one hybrid automobile with Barack gazing skyward on a bumper sticker that said ‘Hope’. The ubiquitous four-colour screen prints hanging from record stores and coffee houses promised deliverance from eight years of anti-science, anti-gay, war-mongering Republican rule.

Early in the presidential primaries, Obama was cast as the underdog against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination. While older liberals worried that America wasn’t ready for a black president, Hillary being the safe choice to beat the Republicans, ‘hipsters’ thought differently. The old school trusted only white establishment figures. The new school cheered Will Smith in Independence Day as he punched space aliens in the face. Hillary was a product of the old school. She ran ads using Republican-style scare tactics. She wore pant suits.

Shepard Fairy, an LA-based street artist/guerrilla marketing maven with multiple arrests – who spins vinyl under the name DJ Diabetes – asked the Obama campaign for permission(!) to work up an image, and before long, five thousand posters were printed and a new rock star was born.

Fairy however did not ask permission from freelance photographer Mannie Garcia, whose Associated Press photo was the source of the image. A lawsuit followed and the parties settled out of court. It would not be his last infringement suit.

“That’s always been my style”, Fairey says. “I don’t get permission. I just do it.” (That quote is from another article that I’m using without permission or attribution).

Mocked by Republicans (‘Nope”, Dope’) who cited the image as evidence that Obama himself was the fascist idol to fear, ‘Hope’ drew in the young voters and that November, Obama beat war vet John McCain and his screechy sidekick Sarah Palin in a landslide.

Transmogrifying Obama’s face into a logo was a slick tactic, creating a hard, colourful shell like a Dunkin’ Donuts sign. Clean, simple, no hanging letters or burned out neon.  So when the right-wingers re-emerged with the birth certificate controversy, a borderline racist attempt to cast the president as an illegitimate foreign usurper, the White House responded by selling birth certificate coffee mugs on their website.

As MC Hammer would say (to a borrowed Rick James lick), “You can’t touch this”.
Four years later, those (non-removable) stickers have faded, Guantanamo Bay is still the bustling extrajudicial detainment camp it always was; aerial drones whoosh over the Mid-East desert and Shepard Fairy is busy stacking paper while his assistants digitally scan classic pro-union, anti-fascism, and black power posters, incorporating the ‘Obey’ logo and readying them for subsequent purchase in malls across America.

With the exception of Ron Paul’s apparent anti-war and drug prohibition stance, none of the current Presidential contenders have a handle on the counter-cultural zeitgeist. But Paul’s commemorative gold coins serve the wrong marketing demo, plus with the exposure of The Ron Paul Political Report, his race-baiting fanzine from the ‘80s/‘90s, it’s unlikely that will write a song for him.

Gregg Lopez


Food & Drink

Hard Shakes and Proper Burgers

On a cold night in December with plenty of Christmas Cheer about, an evening with colleagues at Byron Kings Road was a welcome invitation.

Stepping into a sleeker and more pleasing environment than what you would expect for a burger place, we were welcomed by Lauren and her stellar team who pandered to our every need.

For starters, there were plentiful nachos embedded with salsa, guacamole and sour cream and drizzled with delicious melted cheddar. A sumptuous compliment to the prosecco and impressive selection of bottled beer, which includes Camden (who make a special brew exclusively for Byron), The Kernel, SKA, and my favorite – Sierra Nevada,

The selection of ‘proper’ hamburgers satisfied all of our persnickety dietary requirements. The veggies were treated to, I was told, the best veggie burgers in London. You can choose between a mushroom or a bean patty; both are excellent. The carnivores and California burger snobs at the table were impressed with the quality of the meat and fresh ingredients. Those with a fiery tongue were treated to the excellent chili burger, while those with less adventuresome taste buds were enticed by the classic burger with a grand selection of cheeses including bleu, Monterey Jack, Emmenthal, cheddar or Freddar(™). Yum.

Oh and the sides: both the sweet potato or regular fries, with and without melted cheese and bacon were to die for. The mac and cheese and wedge lettuce were worthy substitutes as well, but the real star of the table was the courgette fries which are an absolute must and disappeared very quickly.

To finish off the evening ‘proper’, we imbibed in the lushest cocktail innovation since piña coladas were discovered. Indeed, I’m talking about the Hard Shake. Being unaware of such an amalgamation, I was delighted to discover that it mixed my two favourite libations: real milk shakes and top shelf whiskey. Wow! An exceptional concomitant to some white chocolate cheesecake or chocolate brownie. I could barely choose….

Overall this was a fabulous and unexpected evening. Not your traditional Christmas ‘dinner’ but oh so wonderful for sure.


The Los Angeles Folk Festival

Less than an hour away from the glitzy facade of Hollywood (Tinseltown, Lipstick City. Plasticopolis) (the idea, not the actual neighborhood), to the north lies a sleepy suburb called Altadena, CA. It is there, on top of a mountain (or giant hill) that you’ll find the magical, burn-out oasis of Zorthian Ranch.

Ten years before Disneyland opened, Jirayr Zorthian created this wild, untamed 45-acre art retreat that has welcomed outsiders and gentry alike to groove among rusted out husks of classic cars, art from kitchen sinks, railroad ties and old movie sets, hang out with llamas, swim in a hillside pool and just do whatever. And for the past three years the ranch has hosted a first-class festival of young folk, country-rock and psych-influenced groups,.

Sure, we all hate rock festivals, with their corporate sponsors, beer tents, loudmouth yahoos, weekend warriors and complete absence of Llamas. This is … not that. This is the L.A. Folk Festival. It has plenty of llamas, a swimming pool and it is splendorous.

Sure, Altadena can be a hassle to get to for L.A. denizens more used to driving their motor vehicles to the corner 7-11, however once you arrive – well, you have to park a couple of miles away, but, after you walk uphill through a suburban neighborhood that apparently saves taxes by not having streetlights, you arrive finally … at the foot of the mountain that must be climbed.

At night, the mountain path is pitch black except for a some LED torches and the stars in the sky (Big Dipper and whatnot). There’s something quiet and not-at-all foreboding about this particular mountain path, because you know that on the other side is a veritable Valhalla of good vibes and art damaged rock and folk.  Without the gift of sight, you find yourself staying close in concert other bodies moving up, trusting that they are not wolf people or maniacs and that you will NOT trip on a crack and sprain your ankle in three places. Yes, I should have brought a flashlight. If only I’d known. And yes, if I had read the website for the L.A. Folk Festival, specifically the bit under the heading “Prepare for Zorithian Park”, I would have.

When you reach the top of the mountain, at last, you’re greeted by two friendly young women at a table with Macbooks and there’s a food truck to the right – civilization.  But when you walk past that what happens is you’re dropped into the set of Goonies, transported to a timeless land, or if you wanted to put a time on it, the 1960s. Just over yonder, some warm, trippy country psych from the Outpost Stage (one of four) sets the mood.

If I may fall back on Hollywood reductionist spin for a minute – because who doesn’t love the old “something meets something” trope? – it’s the Grand Ole Opry meets the Manson Family, Mad Max meets Hee Haw, Nashville meets Alice in Wonderland.

It takes awhile to get a feel for the layout, which on this steep hillside unfolds like an Escher drawing. You walk over bridges built from telephone poles, navigate steep hills next to art that will literally impale you. There’s genius and creativity to spare and not a hacky-sack in sight. And with 26+ acts on four stages, there’s never a shortage of tunes.

For a guaranteed good time, leave it to great female country folks like Jenny Long, Leslie Stevens or Emily Lacey who stick to the essentials of classic country rock and folk – good songs, solid arrangements and a woman’s voice to melt your heart.

Easy going L.A. stalwarts Beachwood Sparks reward mountain climbing musos with their pretty folk-rock melodies, and the haunting harmonies of Yellow Red Sparks take you to Laurel Canyon in the 1960s. It’s not mentioned in the website guide, but you really want to keep a one-hitter handy for transference and transportation purposes. That’s just me saying this though.

Some electrical issues up on the Dustbowl Stage delayed but did not deter the dusty spaghetti western soundtrack stomp of Spindrift. The Dustbowl offers the best view of the stars and is flanked by some old mobile homes in which people seemed to be living.

He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister opened their stellar set on Jerry’s Stage with The Mommas and Poppa’s ‘Straight Shooter’ and continued to dazzle with their joyous brand of garage rock stomp, brother/sister harmonies, slide guitar and tap dancing (!) drummer.

Even more than the high-quality headliners, I liked the weirder stuff at the Lemon Tree Stage, like the morbidly whimsical Dirt Bird or the strange and intense folk of Guy Blakeslee.

As the night comes to a close (around 1ish) with the exquisite Tall Tales and Silver Lining and the exotic Oliwa and The Pleasure Circus you begin to contemplate the walk back down the mountain. It’s a wonder old Zorthian hadn’t devised a zip-line for this purpose.

All in all, it’s a tremendous privilege to see so many great acts in such a magical setting and well worth the uphill trek.

– Gregg Lopez


Food & Drink

The Pikey

Situated next to the famous Samuel French Theatre Bookshop, one would expect to run into a playwright or two at The Pikey. In fact, when this place was The Coach & Horses, as it had been since the 1920s, one could expect to see William Holden sipping gin with William Faulkner or insert name of any cocktail loving Hollywood legend from the dawn of the silver screen. Now the C&H has been reborn as The Pikey. The original 20s-era bar has been lovingly restored with two additional rooms retrofitted as a contemporary UK-style gastropub.

The new front room greets you with it’s tiled floor, dark wood booths and open kitchen with white-hatted chefs preparing steaks, fish and fowl. And the kitchen is open until 1:30am! It’s the perfect meeting place for lunch and dinner.

To the right is the original room which preserves the bar and classic atmosphere of the old Coach and Horses, a favorite watering hole of Alfred Hitchcock among others. Whether you accompany your Fish and Chips with absinthe, one of over 25 single malt scotches, or just a tall can of Red Speckled Hen, you can disappear into the luxurious red booths and slip into the past, while being watched over by garden gnomes, a skylight and the Union Jack.

A dark wood corridor takes you to the back room, a private event space from Sun-Thurs that accommodates 40-50 guests. The entire venue (all three rooms) can be rented out to host up to 150 Dramatis personæ. The new owners are the same folks who gave us Bar Lubitsh and The Roger Room, so you know that every detail has been expertly rendered, and the overall experience will never disappoint. If you’re looking for a proper London Pub in the heart of Tinseltown, The Pikey will surely exceed your expectations.


Mulholland Drive: The REAL Anne Heche Story

There’s nothing more controlled or well thought out than the conspiracy to assassinate a public figure. A public figure disappears and a ‘Hollywood’s Mysteries and Scandals’ pops up on A&E. Who killed Marilyn? Was Jayne Mansfield the victim of a satanic curse? What the hell was Anne Heche doing wandering barefoot into someone’s home? We’ll never know because THEY have carefully plotted, obscured hints and led all sleuths down blind alleys, or in the case of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, behind the dumpster at Winkie’s Diner. This is where a nasty looking troll holds a small blue box, a box that may be a portal between time, the afterlife and your most terrifying nightmares.

But alas even the most well orchestrated conspiracies are prone to real life chance. So as the story opens, what seems like a clean killing on the dark hills of Mulholland Drive is thrown sharply off course by a pair of speeding cars in a head-on collision. The would-be victim (Laura Elena Harring) survives and wanders ‘Carnival Of Souls’-like into the dream theater that is Hollywood USA. What happens afterward could possibly the near-death hallucination of a ‘top actress’ revisiting her life’s journey and the people and events that facilitated he rise and eventual fall.

Enter Betty (Naomi Watts), as fresh as the day is sunny, arriving at LAX with a pink cardigan and a suitcase full of dreams to be an actress. So pure, so nice she seems to have spent her entire flight from Ontario chatting with LA’s friendliest elderly couple. Or are they? Lynch’s patented sound palate of heightened atmosphere suggests otherwise.

You’ve had those nightmares before. Seemingly random unrelated persons and events come together for the sole purpose of scaring the hell out of you and forcing you to second guess all that you hold as safe and normal. Even the Hollywood facade has been studied over and over until the corrupt studio execs, the social climbing wannabes are just the norm. Enter Lynch, Badalamenti and co to fold these ideas eight ways shred them and put them into a magic blue box in order to recharge the force of the nightmare.

Before Betty arrives at her aunt’s apartment, the accident victim seems to have snuck in to hide. If you ask yourself how she chose this apartment out of the millions of tiny lights she descended into from her walk from the accident you come up with that word again: fate.

The initial contrasts of the two women slowly blur along with the plot. With her memory wiped out, Rita as she now calls herself, begins the search for her identity.

She was to be the lead in the Connie Stevens Story. Now the film is hanging in development hell and depends upon the director not being ‘a smartass’. The vast nothingness of the night sky thunderous silence, the very night air is deafening. What does paranoia sound like? Thousands of crickets chirping in the distance. It sound like the wind howling.

Will Betty get the part? It seems irrelevant when the director is forced by some mafia types to cast an actress of their choosing. At some point you realize that it no longer matters if The director (Justin Theroux) tried to rebel but the mafia brings on the heaviest of hitters to convince him. Who might that be? You guessed it, a cowboy.

More clues emerge. A name, a barrel full of Red Herring. The plot doesn’t necessarily twist as much as it transmogrifies and flip flops and deliberately confuses like a Zen riddle.

So now events are completely out of out characters hands. They are helpless in the decisions of others. The only thing left to do at this point would be to morph into one another’s identities and distort the sequence of time with the help of the magic cube. But what is the cube, really? Ask Gene Ray.

Since we’re talking David Lynch, you know there is no easy resolution. None of the mysteries are explained yet he does manage to pull thing full circle. The goons and bogymen laugh and drink together at a beautiful hilltop mansion. It was all pre-planned. It was all prerecorded. Sure it’s fake but the fake version is more life shattering the genuine. It’s all in the blue box. And the key to the blue box

In this Hollywood, Philip Marlowe is dosed with high grade mescaline, Nancy Drew is slipped roofies and sent bungee jumping into her own nightmare basin.