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Sleeping under, and over, the stars

A hipster hang at Hollywood Forever Cemetery is the living end for one intrepid camper.

October 18, 2013|Chris Erskine
  • Ariel Pink concertgoer Greg Snyder at the cemetery.
Ariel Pink concertgoer Greg Snyder at the cemetery. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

Cemeteries have always intrigued me, since the time as a young boy when I ran across a freshly dug grave, two teenagers at the bottom of the pit, doing the things teenagers do when they get a little privacy.

Since then, I always found cemeteries a little sexy.

As kids, we always romped through the nearby graveyard as respectfully as a bunch of 10-year-olds could, chasing rabbits amid the tombstones, playing hide-and-seek. Always thought the spirits probably enjoyed our company, as much as we enjoyed the Huckleberry freedoms that a leafy old cemetery can offer.

Some of our most undervalued public spaces, cemeteries. I like them much better than I like churches or theme parks or malls. Give me a cemetery or give me death.

The Hollywood Forever Cemetery seems to get this. For 13 years now, the place where stars go when they die has held summer movie screenings. Concerts started in 2009, and each August there is the quirky Rudolph Valentino festival.

Coming up, there is the Day of the Dead, when families build altars to lost loved ones.

How appropriately bizarre that a new Hollywood cultural hub has taken form in a 114-year-old cemetery.

Had the pleasure of a sleepover the other night in the famed old cemetery. Now I can say that I slept with Fay Wray and Eleanor Powell on the same night, but I won't. I also slept with Toto the dog and Cecil B. DeMille. That weirds me out just to joke about it. But it's that time of year, right? Weird and wonderful and a little loopy.

If a cemetery sleepover seems ghoulish to you, and creepy, let me assure you that it is. A cemetery sleepover is also restful, noirish, resonant in the ways you'd hope any camp-out might be.

That a hipster concert preceded it added to the evening's quirky ambience. Ariel Pink played, with a creepy "Dark Side of the Moon" aura that seemed appropriate to the setting. If Edgar Allan Poe had formed a rock band, it would probably have sounded a little like Ariel Pink.

"Let me introduce myself," the show's narrator says. "I'm the pillow you sleep with. ... I'm Adam and Eve, sometimes both."

Nice to meet them all.

The Ariel Pink show's video clips are interesting. A lot of the meaning flew right by me, though I did realize at one point how much actress Karen Allen can, on occasion, resemble Jesus Christ (same hair).

And then there were the hipsters. Tonight, they are everywhere, which is what I love most about Los Angeles. For a while, I didn't appreciate the hipsters, even proposed a hunting season at some point, just to thin them, as you would deer, to keep them from breeding themselves into starvation.

But then I embraced the hipster lifestyle. Coffee in Echo Park. Spotty hygiene. Weak James Franco facial hair. The complete hipster oeuvre.

You're probably wondering how I got to stay overnight at the cemetery, which brings us back to Franco for a minute. Airbnb, the Internet lodging agent, held a contest in which winners got to stay in celebrity-designed temporary huts at five places throughout the city, and I picked this cemetery stay off the press release.

Sounded interesting, different, seasonally intriguing. Besides, the dog's been waking me at sunup, and I needed a morning without that.

So here I am, in this little aluminum and glass KitHaus hut. It's 11 p.m., and the hipsters have all gone home, and I miss them and their marijuana cologne. Apparently, hipsters have a lot of trouble with glaucoma.

Anyway, I am left in the middle of this cemetery with only a bottle of wine and my own thoughts, such as they are: "Wish I had a pizza right now," and, "Wow, the dead make really good neighbors."

At nearly midnight, I stroll out on an island that holds the cemetery's most imposing memorial, a family mausoleum built by William Clark Jr., founder of the L.A. Philharmonic.

On the hill, the Hollywood sign. Nearby, the Griffith Observatory. The W Hotel peaks up over the old, leggy palm trees, and for a moment I contemplate sneaking off to my favorite dive, the Frolic Room — another landmark, another place that seems to defy time.

But I'm camped here, and here I'll stay till morning. Toasting Hollywood during Halloween season. Toasting that elusive dark side of the moon.

Day of the Dead festivities

When: Noon to midnight, Nov. 2
Where: Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd.
Admission: $15 on

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