Ostensibly, this is a review of an evocative illustrated history of a fabled stub of Sunset Boulevard, entitled “Tales from The Strip: A Century in the Fast Lane.”
As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, the book published by Angel City Press chronicles the heydays and the high and low life nights of a roadway just two miles in length, but long in rollicking and revealing stories.
Located in the immodest satellite city of West Hollywood, edging a boastful Beverly Hills, the Strip celebrates a greater Los Angeles. Though warped with age, it perseveres as a stand out stop on the celebrity bus tour.
But also for me, and donnish others, searching the expansively suburban, reluctantly urban, Los Angeles for nothing less than its soul, that unique sense of place with the potential of generating an elusive evanescent quality of a “genius loci.” The Strip offers clues.
After all, “The city is the teacher of man,” stated the venerated philosopher Simonides, in 475 B.C. The hope expressed then, and now, nearly 2,600 years later, is that those select public places could somehow give rise to a civic identity and sense of community, however fleeting, to feed a frail democracy.
The Strip’s shifting scenes once upon a time before television were peopled by a cast of spot lit characters, featuring a parade of big screen celebrities, with an occasional menacing mobster lurking in the shadows, and on the sidewalks, the omnipresent chorus of wannabes and witnesses.
The scene lent Los Angeles a certain world fame, tinged with notoriety, that lingers today in what might be defined as a post modern sense of history. To be sure, no such pronouncement is offered by the book’s creative team head lined by writer Van Gordon Sauter, photographer Robert Landau and graphic designer Frans Evenhuis.
Their superlative collaboration is a loose chronology of people and places, including the more furtive later years, the scruffy counter culture, rambunctious musicians, and shifting sounds and life styles, to the present relatively tame, some would say tacky, commercialization.
Nevertheless, as “Tales” touts, developments are constantly being proposed with appropriate fanfare flogging the Strip. And almost daily it seems a new conspicuous billboard is being unveiled. Change has always been welcomed on the Strip, though not always for the better.
The memories persist, lending the Strip a certain appealing cachet and its purveyors cash. Though tarnished, the Strip, I feel, is still the gem in the tiara that is Sunset Boulevard, lending sparkle to a Hollywood of a certain age.
If tempted to cruise The Strip, I suggest going in a car with the roof open or down, careful not to be too distracted by the billboards, and for a closer look stop, and park. Perhaps go tomorrow, Saturday , where at 4 PM at Book Soup, at 8818 Sunset Blvd. the “Tales” creative trio will be, extolling and signing their book.