THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED!
by -Don McDirty-
In the middle of August our local police swept down on Venice beach to ‘Protect and Serve’ us from the most horrible of crimes. Three police trucks and nine cops stopped the musicians playing at Dudley Ave. and Rose Ave. on the Ocean Front Walk. They are protecting us from that evil rock and roll. There are murders, robberies, rapes and Donald Trump but we are spending our taxes stopping music. Now our local musicians are afraid to play at these locations. When asked why, our police just said, “There were complaints!” The next day someone put out a table by Dudley Ave. where we used to play with a notice saying,
‘NO MUSIC. NO AMPLIFIED MUSIC.’
Some weekends there were three or four bands waiting to play at the Dudley Ave. spot on the Ocean Front Walk. Maybe a couple others by Rose Ave. Now they are gone. I talked to many of our musicians and locals and they had varied answers and ideas about the situation. I’ve left out their names and places so they won’t get hassled. Generally they think a combination of shop owners, vendors and neighbors didn’t want the loud music and some of the troublesome people who hang around there. Most musicians say it is a free speech zone and they have no right stopping the music. A couple musicians said, “Some shop managers think they own the street in front of their shops but this is a public street.” Some musicians say it is unfair that they shut down all the music because of a couple problem people. Most of the old timers there say they will be back playing again after things cool off. A few musicians told me they are trying to play in Santa Monica now. One long time musician said, “Let them give me a ticket and I will fight it!”
Another musician thinks the city wants to control the music and vendors similar to what Santa Monica does. “They only want ‘approved’ musicians and vendors that are licensed by them and pay taxes.” Santa Monica makes you pay for a yearly permit if you take donations. They also only sell so many permits. Santa Monica has laws where you can play and how long you can play. If you are playing on the mall, even if you have a permit you are supposed to move after an allotted amount of time. A couple officers have a decibel meter app on their phones and they can check the sound level. The sound can’t be above an approved level. They are now discussing who can play because they’ve had some bad, talentless entertainers. I understand London has an audition for street performers. For now in Santa Monica, there are no quality of talent laws yet as long as you play on a public space and have a city permit. Santa Monica controls vendors and music. However, two bands said they were going to try anyway and play along the beach front a couple blocks over the border in Santa Monica.
Another musician said, “Maybe the city of L.A. can hire and pay the musicians here at the beach. That way musicians make money and they can hire who they want.” However, this kind of setup would stifle the freedom of our Venice vibe. Most of our musicians are ‘free souls’ who come out when the spirit calls them and not because the city sold them a permit and told them they can play at a certain place and time. Some musicians are just passing through town anyway for a day or a week and wouldn’t want to go through all that bureaucracy. This is what makes Venice so cool because we never know who will show up to play. Every day there is something and someone new at the beach in Venice.
What these shops and vendors forget is that many tourists and locals love the music. Many people come and hang out at the bars and restaurants because there is music in front. You can buy a beer or a t shirt anywhere but you can’t always find free live music by a beautiful ocean. One local said, “The number one reason why people come to the beach is for the music and maybe number two is the vendors and of course, ha, ha, ha checking out the sexy babes!” I think the beautiful beach and ocean is a big reason too.
One local defended the crack down saying, “It wasn’t just about the music but it also drew crazy people and drugs. Some homeless nuts would yell profanities and bother people going by.” Another said, “The musicians didn’t control all the meth-head tweekers hangin around. It was a drug hang out for tweekers and a couple of the musicians were meth-heads themselves.” Of course there is also pot & booze. Another regular added, “Some of the bars and restaurants didn’t like the musicians going around to their customers and hustling them for money. After they played they walked around and into the bars and restaurants with cans begging for money.”
An old buddy of mine who lived on Dudley Ave. near the beach front often complained about the drums and music blasting him all day in his house. I understand some neighbors living there now were complaining about the loud music. I admit that some days it was so loud that even I’d have to stay a little ways away. Even some musicians would say that some bands were too loud. Sometimes there would be a band playing by Rose Ave. and another by Dudley Ave. and they both would turn it up to drown out the other! I’m sure some waiters and patrons at the bars, restaurants and shops couldn’t take the loud noise. However some of the people working at these shops loved the music. One restaurant liked us so much that they used to give us free beers when we played. Many residents nearby also loved the music. One old friend who lives a couple blocks away from the trouble said, “I miss walking by and hearing the music.” But of course like in the Beatles movie the Yellow Submarine, there are always a few Blue Meanies who laugh and yell, “We don’t like any kind of music at all!!!”
It has been open season on musicians in the last couple years. Some musicians have been threatened by vendors, shop owners and thugs. At least five musicians have been punched and beaten up. One great singer was hurt so bad he won’t sing here anymore. Two other singers were knifed and badly cut up by madmen! Recently a musician pal who has played here for years was playing not far from Windward Ave. when a shop owner told him to stop. He explained to the shop owner he has been playing there for a long time and kept playing. When he was leaving with his guitar and walked to Speedway to his car the shop owner had two of his big thugs beat him up. One local said, “If they don’t like your music let them call the cops. But now there are vigilantes and thugs enforcing and trying to run things out here!” Musicians just want to have fun and have people enjoy their music but now they have to be fearful of being threatened, beaten and knifed on the Ocean Front Walk. Music has become a dangerous profession in Venice!
No matter who is calling the cops, the police still have a choice on what to enforce. After an old lady was hit and killed by a bike some years ago the city made a NO BIKE law for the Ocean Front Walk. There have been numerous accidents and injuries since then. It is illegal to ride bikes and electric scooters on the walk but they are speeding around pedestrians all day and it is very dangerous yet the police ignore them and instead are picking on musicians. I guess music is more dangerous than getting run down by a speeding scooter?! A scooter can only break your bones but rock & roll can “break on through to the other side!” as the Doors sang.
A couple musicians said they remember a few years ago the Venice police would come by with decibel meters to see if the sound was too loud. They wouldn’t shut you down but tell you to turn it down. I was told the police didn’t use decibel meters in this latest attack on musicians. One guy said, “Maybe the bands should bring their own decibel meters and monitor themselves.” But another added, “The cops don’t know how to use decibel meters anymore.” I guess they can learn. Some years ago for a time they didn’t allow amplified music at all but acoustic music was usually OK. One musician said he thought the no amplified music law is still on the books and the cops can use it if they want although they haven’t in some time. But now maybe they are using it again when they choose?
However things have always been arbitrary at the beach when it comes to music. About 17 years ago a singer, guitarist and I used to play music on a bench by a beach restaurant every day. My pal played acoustic and sang but he could sing pretty loud without a mike. One day the cops came by with their, “We got a complaint and you have to stop.” He argued about it and our police handcuffed him and drove him to the local cop shop at Windward Ave. A few locals went there to try and get him out and the boss cop let him go. He went right back to the same bench and started singing again! No amp but with his booming voice. Some dude rode by on a bike and said with a heavy English accent, “You know who I am? I’m the one who called the police on you! I just rented a room right here for $300 a night and I want it to be quiet!” After a few obscenities we told this English prick that, “You just got here today and Venice beach must change just for YOU?! If you want complete quiet don’t stay at one of the biggest tourist spots in LA!”
I have lived by Venice beach forever and there have always been periodic wars against music. John Haag and his wife Anna, the founders of this newspaper, ran a Beatnik coffee shop on Dudley Ave. called The Venice West. It was a stones throw from the present situation. In the 1960s the police and neighbors didn’t like the Beatniks with their beards, pot and bongos. They shut down the music and poetry at The Venice West saying they needed an entertainment permit, that the city refused to give them. So a few of the Beatnik bongo and conga players took their drums and pot out to the pagoda next to where the problem is now. The city then passed a no bongo playing at the beach law. Yes, there have always been Blue Meanies! This lasted a couple years and then it was repealed.
I was there when our Drum Circle began years ago. We started playing on the Ocean Front Walk until the police kicked us off. Then we moved nearby on the grass behind a pagoda until the cops told us to move again. Finally we moved out onto the sand where it is now.
One bar on the Ocean Front Walk used to be a cool spot for locals to get a beer and listen to some of the best local rock and roll musicians play out in front. The place was redone a few years ago and they didn’t want the rock musicians there anymore. Every day they would flood the ground with water where the bands played and blast their house music to drive the bands away. The bands quit going there. However, to be fair they seem to be doing great with their very loud, recorded house music. Maybe the younger generation don’t like our old rock & roll? Or maybe they are deaf?!
Some businesses on the Ocean Front Walk play their own taped music far louder than any live band. I have to cover my ears when I walk past a couple shops with their music blasting! However the police ignore them? At least one restaurant turns their music up way high as soon as some musicians show up to get them to move. Some musicians have told me that they play for the love and fun of playing music and if a place gives them bad vibes then they don’t want to play there.
A few years back the bar at Dudley Ave. and the Ocean Front Walk used to have their own live music. Some of the same old time musicians who are being hassled now played inside on their stage. All the locals just loved the Doors knock off band Peace Frog who usually played one night a week. Those were fun old times! One upset musician said, “Maybe the shops should pay us! Then they can tell us who they want and how loud it should be.”
A few years ago I used to play with Ibrahim Butler and his Venice Beach Drum Orchestra at the same spot on Dudley Ave. Poor Ibrahim and his wife Diane were hassled and arrested several times for drumming. It was rumored that he may have won some money from the city in a lawsuit over this? Maybe that is what is needed again to stop the harassment by the Blue Meanies and their armies?!
A couple locals and musicians have told me, “Maybe there can be a happy medium where the musicians can play. The sound level can be kept down and the bands and police can keep an eye on the trouble makers.” Another local said, “Can’t we just all get along!? The musicians need to control where they play and try and work with the shops and neighbors.” But many musicians just want to play and have fun and if they are lucky make a buck. They don’t want to act like cops and fight with crazy people out there. Also, who is to decide who the ‘trouble makers’ are? On the other hand one local said, “Some tourists come to Venice beach because they heard about all the homeless and want to see them and the nuts screaming. It adds to the excitement!” I think many could do without that excitement. Joseph, an old musician pal used to say about Venice, “Venice, the outdoor insane asylum!”
A couple of the musician regulars just tried playing on the Venice Ocean Front Walk nearer to the Santa Monica border. They weren’t right in front of any business and they said they got away with it. We will see if they can keep playing there or they will be kicked out of there too? There is senior housing near there and they may object. A couple other old time musicians tried playing just south of the Santa Monica pier and they said it went good. A couple other musicians have been playing a ways south of Dudley Ave. and as yet haven’t been forced to move. So we will have to wait and see.
Things and times are always a changing… People are always trying to gentrify and control the beach in Venice. But we have always had musicians. Most made fame locally like our wonderful Peter Demian, Greg Cruz and Petr Hromadko, Nathan the Piano Player, Starla, Rick, Dale, Suzy Williams, Wadada, Eddie, Leila Rhodes, Robert, Butch, Lionel, Happy, D Rock, Harry Perry, Slim and his drums, Jay (R.I.P), Vinnie, Bennie and many more. Some became world famous like Jim Morrison and the Doors, the Beach Boys, Uncle Bill, Ted Hawkins and recently our dear Sunny War. Hey Sunny, saw you on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Hopefully there can be peace and understanding between the musicians and the businesses and neighbors. No matter what the Blue Meanies do they can’t stop the music…