Listen to/Watch entire show:
The other day, the Urban Man heard about an unexpected event. A last-minute email told me that a well known singer had an unanticipated night off and felt like playing an impromptu gig inside a hip local gallery. At the same time, an artist would drop in to do a little "action painting" in response to the music.
Now, here in L.A., unexpected events are considered the best kind, since they offer an unscheduled kind of sincerity. And if Angelenos are always on the lookout for one scarce commodity in this town, it's sincerity.
Unfortunately, we have also learned to be suspicious. Like the designer vodkas which show up at local parties, or the sudden appearance of of brand-name boots on a formerly bootless star, the unexpected has often been carefully arranged by highly-organized marketing professionals.
Still, the gallery was on that span of Washington Boulevard in Culver City which has the most recent unpredictable appeal. You know, an anonymous stretch of former grim industrialism where you wouldn't think you'd find chic galleries, but do.
So I went.
This particular chic gallery was attached to an architectural firm in a large building of rhythmic modernism featuring big glass windows worthy of an automobile showroom. Here, right on the rushing boulevard, minimalist designers sometimes work, as it were, naked before the world.
Surely that's a kind of postmodern sincerity.
And this evening, in the middle of this large white space, the famous singer had set up her band. People sat gingerly on the floor and in one corner, sure enough, a painter was slapping bright colors on a very large, if rather commercial portrait of Elvis Presley.
Nevertheless, the Urban Man grew cautious. Was this truly an unanticipated event? Was it the Real Thing?
For starters, I noticed that the artist was not actually creating original art, but copying a smaller canvas he had set up nearby. Then I saw that he and the lead singer were wearing colorful matching smocks. I recalled that this particular painter was known for his Disney movie posters, and the singer had recently released an album of Disney-inspired songs.
Did Disney have an Elvis project in the works? And hey, didn't I recall reading about a very similar unanticipated event occuring in a chic New York gallery?
As I strolled around, I took careful note of oversized lithos of futuristic sports cars and sunglasses. I looked at a design for a minimalist hay barn of exposed girders. I leaned close to discover that yes, most of the abstract canvases on the walls of the chic gallery were actually reproductions.
And for a time, I grew troubled. Sure, the famous singer was weaving beautiful music about her roots in East Texas, the bumps in her childhood, and her uncertainty about the modern world. Sure, there was no overt hint of Disney in the room and no designer vodka in sight.
But could I trust her?
Around the world, people develop local skills: some places they go mushroom-gathering or clam-digging. Here in the metropolis, we have grown adept at unearthing the genuine from even the most artificial situations. And at last I join the others on the floor to practice this important municipal craft.
First I selectively eliminate the disingenuous email from my memory. Then I remove the self-conscious minimalism, the commercial art, the posters of sexy cars, the showroom windows and the rehearsed chic of the big white space itself from my heart.
Only then can I think: "You know, this singer has an honest voice and soul-searching lyrics." And for a while, despite the odds, the Urban Man can distinguish every small note of unanticipated sincerity in the room.
Copyright © 2006 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
Click the Full Details link to view the complete transcript. Tapes are not available.
Engage & Discuss
BROUGHT TO YOU BY