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Summer Splash

Summer's Tragic Muse

Sandra Tsing Loh is author of the novel "If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home by Now," the play "Bad Sex With Bud Kemp" and "The Loh Life," heard weekly on KCRW.

May 20, 1999|SANDRA TSING LOH exhibit at MOCA? Frank O'Hara--the wonderful New York poet and critic who, at heart, was really . . . so L.A. His immortal words: | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Many of us face the unveiling of a new Los Angeles summer with suspicion. Tearing open the wrapper, we hope for a Cadillac convertible, but instead often find a kind of ungainly Homer Simpsonmobile . . . of event listings.

Your favorite Beatle--with two members of Jefferson Starship, and also one BeeGee, at the 20,000-seat Irvine Ranch Fairgrounds Starlight Amphitheatre in southern San Diego County! On a Wednesday. Your favorite jazz hero from the '70s, the cornetist whose Blue Note CDs you collect, who so memorably won the Grammy in '85 with those recordings in Carnegie Hall with Sarah Vaughn, appearing inexplicably in July at a former strip-bar in North Hollywood (near the Burbank Airport) called Romney's Cavern.

And you're thinking: What is going on? Who can keep up? Has everyone gone mad?

Yes. . . . And what better place to revel in this last brilliant plume of the 20th century than our sprawling Los Angeles Basin, a Pynchon-esque cultural blender where area codes change nightly? You have a car, a Thomas Guide and a phone--why panic? Relax. Enjoy. Have fun. So what if the future is here? Fortunately, it's the past!

Consider that in summer 1999--and realize that the following events are not fiction--Blondie is back (May 28 at Universal Amphitheatre), the Go-Go's and Berlin are back (July 8 at the Greek Theatre), Bad Company is back (Aug. 8 at the Greek). Even Black Sabbath is back (July 24. Where? Where else but the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion! You know, the one in Devore. Off Interstate 15.). Or here's another "Night of Damaged Hair" reunion for you: Poison, Ratt, Great White and the L.A. Guns (June 17 at Universal).

Possible listing we'll see in summer 2000: K.C. and the Sunshine Band hot-air balloon into the Nabisco/Seagram Mega-Stadium off the I-99 in Tustin on July 19. Science fiction . . . or Summer Splash?

In pop music, it seems, '80s tacky has become '90s nostalgia. Which gets one to thinking, surely L.A. jazz is primed for a similar re-renewal. To the left, we tend to have 23-year-old East Coast guys in three-piece suits reviving bebop at Catalina's. To the right, the beret-and-vest adult-contemporary/world-beat crowd leaping around blowing didgeridoos at Taste of Orange County! (Food and jazz. Jazz and food. Jazz is a form that often needs to be propped up with a canape.)

In the '80s revival spirit, where is the reemergence of that lovably grotesque jazz-rock "fusion"--the very word that causes critics to turn, hock and spit? But, hey, man, what's more L.A.--and in 1999, more classic--than red leather pants, keyboard ties, caterwauling DX-7s? You want nostalgia? How about a "Jan Hammer's Theme to 'Miami Vice' " night at the Jazz Bakery (half off for those in Members Only jackets)? Amazingly enough, this event is not listed.

As a fan myself of explosive, irreverent, virtuosic, chardonnay-intolerant (and yet authentically West Coast) jazz, the musical event I'm most looking forward to this summer is the return of the Frank Zappa reunion band Banned From Utopia (now L.A. studio musicians, all original Zappa members, save for guitar parts of the late, lamented Frank) at the new Baked Potato Hollywood (Aug. 27-28) to celebrate fall's brand new album.

Now, let's review our prejudices about Equity-waiver theater in L.A. Here's the dreary image: a showcase hastily shellacked together, its atmosphere redolent of some "industry mixer," where performers look glassy-eyed over the heads of the audience in search of ghostly network people beyond. Where, if you hold still, you can hear the faint sucking sound that is the draining of the very lifeblood of our planet. Where one feels like one needs a shower not before going out to Hollywood but after.

Well, forget that. And embrace L.A.'s great theatrical iconoclasts, who move past ritual humiliations by the industry (and occasional jobs playing cops) in continual return to and renewal of their first burning love. Of the many small theaters fighting the good fight, two I particularly follow are the Actors' Gang (particularly if it's a David Schweizer production) and ASK Theatre Projects (particularly if it's John Fleck). In this summer's ASK Common Ground Festival (June 23-27), I've checked off the Oasis Theatre Company's production of Leon Martell's "Bea[u]tiful in the Extreme." Speaking of former Duck's Breath Mystery Theatre members, also worth noting is the triumphal return of Jim Turner's late-night guerrilla clown theater group Two-Headed Dog. Stunningly ungrantable, shows typically include free beer for both audience and performers, July 13 at Largo, see you there.

And, when it comes to celebrating the living arts while completely hammered, don't forget our Hollywood Bowl--for my money, the weirder the program the better. Samples: "Bugs Bunny on Broadway . . . IV" (Aug. 8); "From the Bowl to the Moon--And Beyond! With Gogi Grant" (Sept. 3-4); July's Russian program, just so you can say: 'Yep. We're going to see Ivan on July 13th. Ivan the Terrible. At the Bowl. With fireworks." Actually, it's with film. But still. Listen, Bowl--I kid, but I love.

Proving that true divas never die, actress Sarah Siddons, who dominated the London stage for 30 years (albeit in the late 18th/early 19th centuries), is everywhere--with portrait exhibitions both at the Huntington and the Getty! Who's her agent?

Finally, what's a better tonic for summer than the "Frank O'Hara and American Art"

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