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Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles’

“No Particular Place to Go” as Chuck Berry sang in 1964 is as good a metaphor as any to describe the current plight of the U.S. auto industry. It was just announced that the once mighty Pontiac is no more, and at least two of the Big Three are in serious danger of being relegated to museum status. Ironically, a museum is where I recently saw an exhibit celebrating General Motors’ 100th (and perhaps final?) anniversary.

An exhibit honoring GM's 100th anniversary at the Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A.

An exhibit honoring GM's 100th anniversary at the Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A.

The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles is a rather impressive display of beautiful automobiles and the culture that grew up around them. It’s also a good place to learn about L.A.’s reputation for car customization and innovation.

An exhibit showing off L.A.'s grand tradition of customizing old cars

An exhibit showing off L.A.'s grand tradition of customizing old cars

A recent visit to the Petersen inspired many of the ideas in our current, very timely episode on the future of the American automobile. The takeaway? If anyone can save Detroit, it might just be Los Angeles. Host Kurt Andersen takes a tour of L.A.’s singular car culture from hot rodders to low riders, old-school customizers to next-generation designers. And we get a glimpse of the future behind the wheel of the all-electric, super aerodynamic Aptera, one of several scrappy, independent car companies sprouting up all over southern California. Kurt concludes, “instead of the Big 3 we may have a return to the Little 10.”

-Derek John

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We recently spent some time with one of the most interesting people in Los Angeles. He’s a leading light in the so-called Makers’ Movement – people who believe that making things yourself, or fixing the things you have, is lots better than mindlessly buying new stuff.

His name is Peter but he goes professionally by Mr. Jalopy. Like a sort of new-age Rube Goldberg, he can build elegant contraptions out of the junk he finds at garage sales, or, in this case, fashion together what he calls the world’s largest iPod.


Derek L. John


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When Studio 360 recently caught up with the up-and-coming BLK JKS in Los Angeles we stumbled onto a bit of a musical scoop. Hanging out “back-stage” with the South African band before their show at the LA Natural History Museum, we were fortunate enough to hear a brand new unreleased song from their forthcoming full-length (expected this summer).

“Banna Ba Modimo” is roughly translated as “Man of God” according to lead singer and guitarist Lindani Buthelezi who sings the chorus in his native Sepedi.

Buthelezi went on to say, “it’s about zombies, a corrupt priest, which president to vote for in South Africa.” Band mate Mpumi Mcata chimed in, “Man of God who now walk unafraid, man of God who now walk unawares.” We’re unaware of exactly what that means, but we like how it sounds, especially live and unplugged. Special thanks to sound engineer Claes Andreasson for the hi-fidelity recording. And make sure to check out the complete interview w/ host Kurt Andersen which includes a live unplugged performance of their first single “Lakeside.”

Derek L. John

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I’ve just spent a fascinating day in the desert an hour and a half north of Los Angeles.

It was an Art Center College of Design field trip. First stop was a hangar-cum-workshop at the Mojave airport – officially, and very grandly, the Mojave Air and Space Port — where I met Jon Sharp, a charming, civilized 50-something guy who built (with his wife Patricia) and races a two-seat airplane called NemesisNXT.

The fastest plane of its kind on earth

The fastest plane of its kind on earth

The plane is made from a so-called “composite” material – molded plastic pieces glued together, essentially, like a giant model airplane. Last fall at a race in Reno he flew 409 miles per hour, which is now the world record for his class of homebuilt plane. When NemesisNXT turns at those speeds it subjects Jon to 6 Gs of gravitational force. He also said he’s flown the little plane from my home state of Nebraska back to Mojave in four hours, including a stop for gas, which is amazing.

You can buy a kit from the Sharps to build your own NemesisNXT, which will run you something over $300,000.

On the other side of the airport — Space Port, I mean — is Scaled Composites, which is the 320-employee company founded and still presided over by Burt Rutan, the most famous living aircraft designer. Among other achievements, Rutan designed the Voyager, the first plane to circumnavigate the planet nonstop without refueling, and SpaceShipOne, the first private spacecraft.

At Scaled I met Bob Williams, the company’s program manager, who hates the federal government (a frequent client) and “the media,” and doesn’t seem to think that climate change is a result of human activity. But he obviously loves helping to build unprecedented, record-setting aeronautical marvels, and he was hard not to like.

Twenty minutes from there – that is, in this wide-open part of the world, next door – I toured NASA’s Dryden Research Center, which is on Edwards Air Force Base. CIVILIANS WELCOME! says the sign in the cafeteria, and the portraits of Barack Obama and Joe Biden are already up.

A mural inside the NASA research center at Edwards AFB

A mural inside the NASA research center at Edwards AFB

One of NASA's F-18s (I think) in its hangar

One of NASA's F-18s (I think) in its hangar

There we saw historic planes (such as an X-15, which was the subject of the first non-fiction book I read as a child) and the research planes they use today – such as an autonomous robot plane that can fly on its own for 31 hours.

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On the way back to L.A., my Art Center pal Nik Hafermaas took me to the middle-of-nowhere headquarters of Gene Winfield. In certain circles, Winfield is a god: now 81, he is an old-school hot-rodder and custom-car designer who has made cars for movies (including Back tothe Future, RoboCop and Blade Runner) and still makes them for well-to-do car freaks.

winfieldcarsphoto His parts yard, where we wandered and stared as a bluesy rock instrumental blasted from behind a closed shodoor, was like an art installation.winfieldjunkphoto

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A concept car Winfield designed for Detroit a half century ago

A concept car Winfield designed for Detroit a half century ago

At the end of my day in America – a version of the country that I’d never really stepped into, and had really only  read about, in The Right Stuff and The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby – I was utterly bedoozled. The desert sun helped.

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Gaze up above any low slung building in LA and this is the view.

Gaze up above any low slung building in LA and this is the view.

Greetings from the other side of the Pacific Rim– Los Angeles! This winter/spring Kurt Andersen has a special residency at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and we’ve got some LA-based stories and interviews in the works. I finally walked around my new nabe today in mid-city. (I’m calling it LaVicPic– near the intersection of La Brea, San Vicente, and Pico), and I stumbled on what I thought was a record store, called 33Third.

cans o paint at 33third

The name is a reference to the vinyl it used to sell. The record bins were empty, but on the opposite wall was a mesmerizing grid of aerosol paint cans in colors with names like eggplant, smurf, and aspen. Each can goes for $7 or $8 bucks. Bill, who was working the register, told me the vandals shop elsewhere; taggers prefer the $1 cans from the hardware store. Turns out high end paint for graffiti artists makes 33Third way more money than vinyl records ever did. Then he opened up the back door for me to check out the yard. Every available surface is covered with graff art, even the BBQ. In March they’ll have DJs, live bands, and graff parties out back, it’s not warm enough now, Bill says. How is that possible? It was at least 80 degrees here today!

— Michele Siegel

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