So Judson and Mary had a big day not long ago. They were busking outside a CVS when who should walk by but noted comic, actor, and KFC Famous Bowl maligner Patton Oswalt. He listened to them play as he waited for his prescription refill, and he apparently enjoyed it very much. He even posted a photo of them on his Twitter. Over five-thousand people clicked on it!
And about a half hour later, Judson and Mary were arrested for trespassing. The police, it seems, were not swayed by appeals to reason and decency, or the news that the duo had a show at Spaceland that night. Those cold-hearted cops didn't even take a flier.
(I'm not suggesting that there's a connection between these two events. I'm pretty sure Patton Oswalt didn't dime on them.) (Though you never know about these Hollywood types, with their loose morals and their cocaine. They're unpredictable.)
The good news: they were released in time to play their show at Spaceland.
The bad news: the only free Americans are those whose interests don't extend beyond sitting perfectly still.
Inevitably, one's right to the pursuit of happiness is endlessly compromised. It comes with so many conditions that referring to it as a "right" is delusional at best, a cynical joke at worst. But still, even accepting this, the prioritized rights that negate the pursuit of happiness seem to have become downright bizarre. For example, while shopping for greeting cards and energy drinks and waiting for your Xanax and Zoloft prescriptions to be filled, you have the right not to be tormented by buskers playing beautiful music. This right is apparently paramount in the eyes of the law.
Which brings us, tangentially, to the Echo Curio. If you're the type of person who's aware of my scuzzy little corner of the internet, then you're also probably aware of the Curio's recent travails. What began here, with the cops putting the clampdown on the Curio's tolerance for outdoor boozing, continued inexorably, step by petty step, until the cops and the city put the clampdown on the venue altogether.
I had been uncharacteristically optimistic that something as positive as the Echo Curio would have little trouble procuring the necessary permits to continue putting on shows and nurturing independent artists in some capacity. But, well, I'll tell you what, that's the last time you'll ever catch me being uncharacteristically optimistic about anything. The labyrinthine vagaries of zoning ordinance, and a dearth of support from a representative government that considered it a nuisance, led the Curio to throw in the (brightly colored, eclectically embroidered, nude-president-covered) towel.
But still, even with the Curio's existence waning under the watchful eye of law enforcement, there was a show there last night. A somewhat hush-hush, not widely advertised but not by any means secret show. Sort of. Almost.
I got there a bit late, but I caught most of the quiet, respectful-to-the-neighbors set played by two guys with guitars, one of whom I assume was Devon Williams. They played some nice enough songs, though I didn't pay close attention. I was distracted by vague nostalgia, regret, a nagging certainty that the cops would be walking in at any moment, and this jazzy video installation they had going on.
After the set, I was sitting outside having a smoke when, lo, a cop car drove by, pulled a heart-wrenching U-turn, and pulled up in front of the hushed gallery. Officers strolled in. "Who's in charge?" was determined. A citation was given, a court date set, the rest of the show cancelled. People stood around. A girl called me Jorgen number two. And it was finally accepted that the Echo Curio, in its current incarnation, was officially no more. (There is talk of Echo Curio-sponsored shows happening at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock, but ... you know, not the same.)
I haven't read Vonnegut's Player Piano in many years, but I seem to recall it ending with knowingly futile revolt incited solely "for the record." It pleases me to think of last night's show in a similar way.
I don't reckon I was the only one in the room who knew that the show would not commence as planned, and that the state, sooner or later, would shut it down. We were all aware that we inhabited a room where the authorities would not tolerate the playing of instruments and the singing of songs. The LAPD, no doubt, was tireless in monitoring the Curio's Facebook page for signs of any impending musical activity. It was a hopeless scenario.
And, yet, they put on a show anyway.
You can't fight city hall. In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve. Rules are rules. Permits are permits and zoning is zoning. A retail area is not a tea room is not a cafe. This is all true.
True or not, those sentiments deserve little more than contempt. At most, they call for a grin and a shrug.
Last night, the Echo Curio--with style and dignity--grinned that grin and shrugged that shrug. Music played in the room where music must not play. For the record.