My brother just moved to Los Angeles. The gang and I have been doing our best to ease him into it. We've been talking about the city a lot, ad lib-ing the usual themes--taco trucks, bars, the ghosts on Sunset.
Talking up Los Angeles is a pastime for Angelenos. Feeling like an "insider" is another one. They're both pretty annoying. But my brother's experience reminds me that newcomers have a hard time finding the beat. Los Angeles doesn't reveal itself willingly. It isn't seductive like San Francisco or Boston, and it doesn't flaunt stacked order or sky-scraping audacity like New York. It seems spat up, and its rules are baffling. Navigation takes instinct more than calculation.
The impression is jarring: Los Angeles doesn't need you. The newly relocated can react badly to the snub. So it's hard trying to explain to those who aren't turned on that this is the most creative city on the planet. The claim doesn't square with the shallow first experiences, and it is rejected aggressively.
So I tell my brother to have faith. LA's magic is a deep well. Here are some of the divining rods that helped me:
1. Los Angeles Plays Itself
Thom Andersen’s "encyclopedic, sardonic valentine to his adopted hometown and how it has been represented — for better and worse — by its most famous local industry" (Variety).
This movie is gem, a cult classic, and a pretty stunning visual essay about Los Angeles. When Anderson made it in 2003, it wasn't even released commercially. He screened it to select audiences as a kind of canned lecture. Fortunately, it was released broadly in 2014. Lord only knows what a pain in the ass it must have been to get permissions for this thing. The doc consists of spliced together footage from hundreds of films set to voiceover by the professor himself. It's brilliant, it's informative, and it'll make you reevaluate your relationship to the city (and consider how your impressions were formed in the first place). It's not short, but it's well worth the commitment.
2. Ask The Dust by John Fante
If you're in the arts, and you've moved to Los Angeles with a dream, this is your book. It's heart breaking, gritty, and historically fascinating (who knew Bunker Hill used to be home to the city's flop houses?). This book famously inspired Bukowski, which might be a draw or a turn-off, depending on your feelings about that lecherous old dude.
Bonus: The Post Office by Charles Bukowski. Which is the more important LA book? Michael Nordine did a nice head-to-head for LA Weekly.
4. Go get drinks then hit up a gallery. There are tons. I'm digging Alexandra Grant's photographic stuff right now, but she works in lots of mediums and makes you stop and stare in all of them.
Bonus: Barbara Mendes Gallery. I pass this on my way to my office every day. Worth it just for the exterior, but stop in and say hi. She's really great.
5. Listen to "Carmelita" (Warren Zevon & Jackson Browne), "The Vicodin Song" (Terra Naomi), The Chronic (Dr. Dre), The Doors (The Doors), "Angeles" (Elliott Smith), "Sleepless In Silverlake" (Les Savy Fav), "Free Falling" (Tom Petty) (... really anything by Tom Petty).