I had the honor of doing the cover for the great Frank Catalano’s new cd, God’s Gonna Cut You Down. He is joined by the great Jimmy Chamberlin. These are “essential sides.”
More and more the Albert Camus quote about artists taking a long and arduous journey to rediscover the one or two images that first opened their heart; feels true to me. As a kid. I loved signs, and Chicago was full of them. I also memorized the ones in Villa Park and Lombard as a way of navigating. I loved the Cock Robin sign because of the rainbow cones you could get there– three neon-bright square scoops of sherbet. I also loved their burgers, which is not to say that they were good. They weren’t. they were buffalo-pucks, but as a kid, I ate all manner of garbage happily.
One of the things I loved in Tokyo was all of the packaging of candy, snacks, flair, popsicles, you name it. There were all kinds of signs and messages therein. Even today, I can tell what kind of neighborhood I’m in anywhere in the world just by the signs.
The Drive on Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard from the Pacific to downtown LA takes you through every American circumstance and appetite, from the penthouse to the outhouse and back. One minute you’re driving through tony Bel-Air, and very soon you’re among the walking wounded of East LA. This drive is amazing at night, when Los Angeles looks like a fleet, sleek animal decked out in lights. I get what people love about it. On that majestic ride, everything looks possible.
Needless to say there were no Cock Robin burger joints in LA. They have Rick’s In-and-Out Burger, which is way better and also has an iconic sign.
People who’ve had near death experiences will always tell you “your life flashes before your eyes” or some such jive. In truth, they are not all the way wrong. You find yourself revisiting places, situations, and circumstances that are familiar, kind of like a deja vu thing, but more resonant because it is something from your life, if this makes any sense.
I saw the Cock Robin sign, the side of my house from childhood where my mother grew lily of the valley, and my sister’s rabbits, among other things. They felt like missives from a childhood, waving good-bye.
Somebody sent me a picture of this bird on Facebook. I believe its proper name is a “Silver Eared Maltesia,” which sounds like a medication you take for the clap. One often sees these birds in the Asian bird markets, where they are sold tethered to sticks as cage birds–a stupid and cruel practice which I wish would cease. In fact, I wish all trafficking in exotic birds would be outlawed. I’ve never understood the instinct of people who would cage a creature meant to fly. It seems contrary to the creature itself, and identifies a deep and abiding cruelty.
When I was a kid, there was less disposable income around. Instead of throwing out a worn pair of shoes, people got them repaired, re-soled and re-shaped, and had the heels re-built. There was a shop in the Greyhound Bus depot downtown that had, on any given day, what looked like dozens upon dozens of shoes in various states of repair, a couple of guys working diligently, and a curious, older guy who smelled like a Beefeater martini jaw-boning the customers and making change.
He would look at me and say, “Kid, do you know what they call a man who makes shoes?” and I’d say ,”A Cobbler?”, and he’d say, “That’s right, but what do you call the guys who repair his shitty work?” I told him I didn’t know and he told me, “Why, you call us anything but late for supper.”
All of the guys in the shop would crack up and I’d pretend to laugh, not quite understanding the joke. I was about 11 and my dad would get his wing-tips repaired here from time to time.
The place was full of old shoe repair signs and I never forgot this one.