los angeles, california

As we were driving up the ribbons of concrete into Los Angeles late on a Wednesday afternoon, my mind wandered back to the last time I was here – November 2008 to see Van perform Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl. Throngs of us had descended upon Hollywood for the weekend and the party was on. It was those two shows that gave me the impetus to put down the whole Astral Weeks Live experience in words and ultimately led to this glorious book tour I’m on, so in a way it feels like I’ve come full circle to where it all began.

Bridget’s behind the wheel, loving the no-holds-barred California driving that takes you across four lanes of traffic in five seconds flat, off this highway and onto the next, in a series of moves that gets us onto Hwy 101 into West Hollywood and our Super 8 home for three nights. We’re in Hollywood, baby! First thing on our agenda is to head out to Hollywood and Vine to meet up with an old friend from my Toronto days, Chris Sorensen, who’s since moved to LA to seek his fortune. After 22 years, there’s a lot to catch up on, and we do just that over dinner at a nice little Italian place just off Hollywood Blvd., followed by a stroll along the boulevard among the stars embedded in the sidewalk.

Next morning we were up bright and early and off to Burbank and the NBC Studios to get tickets for the Tonight Show. Diane Keaton was the guest and Moby the musical guest, so we were looking forward to a good show. We were there shortly after 7 a.m. – the first two in line – the only two people in line – which of course had us wondering if we were even in the right place. We waited there alone for a good half hour before being joined by one more ticket seeker – Don, who regaled us with stories of his travels until the door opened at 8 and tickets were handed out. Off we headed back to the hotel in plenty of time for the free breakfast and loads of time for a morning nap. We’d been advised to be back at the studio by 2 to get in line for the show, which begins taping around 4:30 – no guarantees of getting in, but we were hopeful. We were assigned numbers 191 and 192, and things looked good, given that there is in excess of 300 seats in the studio. The only time we got worried was when they started letting in these long lines of people who didn’t appear to have any numbers at all. At long last we were ushered in – the last two in a group of eight; the first six were directed to follow that person to find their seats, while Bridget and I were assigned to follow this person who took us to ours. The waiting had been worth it – we were taken to seats that were being reserved for who knows whom, but they must have been somebody well-connected, because these had to be the best seats in the house – a half dozen rows up, directly in front of Jay, so we could see over the tops of the cameras as they wheeled back and forth across the floor, obstructing the view for many, I’m sure. We were well-entertained from the get go, including the fellow who warms up the audience beforehand. Diane Keaton is a rescuer of dogs and her spot, which included a pitch for her new book and her new movie, also included her bringing a dog onto the set in the hopes of finding it a home with someone from the audience. That worked out well – after the taping, a couple went up on stage and claimed the dog … it was that easy. Moby is best known as a techno DJ, but tonight he came on with a band, playing guitar and leaving most of the vocals to one of the female singers, performing “Poison Tree” from his new box set Music That Changes the World.

Chris had suggested that Pershing Square was as good a place as any in downtown LA to scope out as far as busking opportunities for Bridget, so that’s where we headed the next day. Incredible as it seems, we found a parking lot nearby that charges $5 a day and from there headed out on foot into the jewelry district … amazing – block after block after block in every direction filled with nothing but jewelry stores. Bridget found herself a good corner to play on and I wandered off to see what I could see (mostly jewelry) for an hour or so. On the non-jewelry side of Pershing Square, I came across one of those rarities – a funicular called Angels Flight.

This little cable railway had its maiden “flight” on New Year’s Eve 1901 and has been operating since, transporting people up and down the 325-foot hill. The historical marker at the bottom of the incline talks of the society matrons living in the wealthy neighborhood at the top of the hill taking the car down with their butlers who carried the day’s shopping back up from Grand Central Market at the foot of the hill. I don’t know who lives at the top of the hill nowadays, but the market continues to flourish – a thriving indoor market with stands of everything from fruit to fish.

Downtown LA doesn’t seem to be a place for a lot of open spaces and greenery, so I was pleased to find a bit of both as I wandered around the Pershing Square neighborhood.

From downtown LA, it was back up to Hollywood for a quick visit with my friend Mark Watt, before he headed into town to see his second Bruce Springsteen show in as many nights. Mark and I have known each other since we both discovered the Van Morrison list on the Internet more years ago than I can remember – but when you live on opposite sides of the continent, friendships sometimes are formed and forever remain out in the ether. But it looks like all that’s going to change soon, with Mark’s imminent move to Ithaca, New York, in a few months. Now all we need is for Van to come back to New York for a few shows so all the local fans can welcome Mark to the East Coast fold. In the meantime, here in Hollywood, we’ve arranged to meet up on Sunset Blvd across from Amoeba Music. Wow! As anyone will tell you who has been to Amoeba, this has to be one of the finest record stores in the country. Bins and bins full of a vast repertoire of music, including a huge selection of vinyl and used music. I’m not against shopping for music online, but I still get a thrill flipping through the goods in the racks. You never know what goodies you’ll find. Today I struck gold … for years I have been searching for the Ray Charles song “What Would I Do Without You?” in every record store I go into. But my search is over. Amoeba Music to the rescue! What a treasure for the locals and a must-see if you’re ever in LA.

And what better time to pop in my new Ray CD than the next morning, as Bridget and I said goodbye to Hollywood and steered Dexy over to Santa Monica Blvd., taking the final leg of old Route 66 out to Santa Monica and a day at the beach – the starting point of our trip up the coast along the Pacific Highway.

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