June 14, 2007
Venice Beach: The Land of Misfit Energy
Ah Venice Beach, a place that continues to 'take me in' regardless of how many times I've participated in its energy. Somehow this last visit seemed to jump out and say more than it ever has in the past - 'we're the land of misfit toys - come join us and celebrate." Below are a smattering of shots I took on my Olympus C-7000.
The photos are really a true reflection of the diversity that Venice Beach offers -- across multiple levels. It screams, shouts, begs, and then for awhile, calms you, invites you, entices you, confuses you...and then you start all over again.
Between the smoke shop, 20 foot python, half man, "Crystal Woman," incense and palm reading table, people flying by on wheelchairs, African and American Indian indigenous music players, there's a man standing with a Jews for Jesus shirt immediately across from a man in a Goyim for Jesus t-shirt. On one corner, there are the Bush haters with their protests, signs and chalk-etched notes on the pavement and a block down, the Navy and Army have expansive recruiting stands set up.
As I blade by the artwork, the incense, the drummer who beats on water bottles and buckets, and African statues, I weave in and out of people from nearly every walk of life and every two minutes, the beat changes -- Reggae, no Kylie Minogue, no "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," well if it isn't that old rap song from 1976, and then Beyonce joins me as I near the juice bar, the one that sits across from the small bistros and stands serving tapas, tacos, kebabs and Indian food. You don't need an iPod here. If you don't hear what you crave, just wait a minute or two......
Welcome to the Venice Beach boardwalk, the land of misfit energy. The land where A.D.D. sensor seekers thrive. Below is my friend Ray Lewis' take, who joined me on this energizing and colorful blade.
They should make a 1/10 model of the Statue of Liberty and ship it to Venice Beach, fly it across the country in a psychadelic helicopter and plunk it in the sand right off the middle of the boardwalk. Because Venice Beach stands for what the Statue of Liberty was all about 100-plus years ago. Today we are led by men who want to put up a big fence along the Mexican border. Not here.
"We welcome all of you because you are all freaks and misfits, whether you are painting yourself gold (and your dog too) or you're a tourist from Kansas, whether you are dressed in drag or suburban drab." Venice Beach is where the misfits meet middle America and where it is unclear, after an hour's time blading on the boardwalk, who is weirder.
THIS is a vision of America at her best, where visitors and drifters and residents come together and in their insane differences make a common community, without descending to homogenized food and faces and clothing and language to try and make us feel like we belong.
How long it's been since I felt proud to be an American. Emma Lazarus, who wrote that beautiful poem at the base of the Statue in New York Harbor, would love Venice Beach. I can see her ghost sitting on a bench, in between the guy with the python and the guy with no limbs, smiling and re-writing.
The Groovy Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our smog-washed, sun and sea Eden shall stand
A sexy woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the inspired lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her wild eyes command
The concrete boardwalk that Venice Beach does frame.
"Keep sterile TV, your deadening malls!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your Geeks, your bored,
All misfits souls yearning to speak free,
The rejected expressionists of your towns and shores.
Send these, the creators, tempest-tost to me,
To play and sing beneath my golden door!"
Up and down the boardwalk, this man sang, "jangle bells, jangle bells, help me get drunk"
He even painted his dog
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Thank you for this post, Renee! Your enlightened reaction to that crazy-quilt scene warms this old heart. I took special interest in your post because I discovered Venice Beach way back before it was discovered. We’re talking 1958—my god!—I was fresh out of the Army and wanted to spend some time as a misfit before heading off to college.
Back then, Venice was just a beach slum with cheap rents. The primary inhabitants were body-builders; homosexuals who needed an obscure place to hide out (this was way before Gay Pride); impoverished and elderly Old Country Jews wanting to end their days by the sea and this being the only affordable place to do so; plus a scattering of wannabee beatniks like myself. Then, gradually, the real beatniks discovered the place, and then the press discovered the beats, and then all hell broke loose—reporters, TV cameras, druggies, hangers-on, you name it.
But as your post so eloquently illustrates, the place managed to leverage its new visibility and land on its feet. It became better than it was—which almost never happens in the case of discovered places. The one down note is that nobody can afford to live there anymore.
Thanks for making my day by stirring up so many great old memories—plus, I just realized—I have a blog post here!
Posted by: Tom Shugart | Jun 14, 2007 5:01:56 PM