Writings About Music


Land of Pancakes: Walking Miracle Mile and More

Recognizing that I have neglected exercising of late, and feeling a sense of relief at having acted to resolve a conflict, I left my studio and sojourned out for an extemporaneous walking tour, passing by the giant suspended boulder at LACMA, past the burial grounds of prehistoric wildlife at La Brea Tar Pits, and heading east along the irresistibly sun-soaked pavements of historic Wilshire Boulevard through the district named Miracle Mile. In the back of my mind, there was the thought that I might eventually end up at a famed local restaurant to sample the renowned pancakes they are reputed to have, having skipped breakfast so far today.

After walking for a healthy stretch on Wilshire, pausing to whet my appetite by perusing the menus of cafes along the way, I turned north on Highland, and then back west along side streets towards The Grove and Farmer's Market where the alluded to dining establishment beckoned. For those currently warming by heaters and fireplaces and such, I hope you don't mind me mentioning that I was wearing a T-shirt, gym shorts, and Hawaiian sandals, appropriate for the bright and balmy afternoon.

And then, there it was, a park I had intended to explore for the first time, just east of The Grove. Following along paths, and across green lawns and a baseball diamond, I stopped to admire the skill of some amateurs playing basketball with remarkable intensity. Beyond the court, I spied a sloping concrete structure, and to my amazement, there I was, as if flashed, in an outdoor permanent exhibition area of a museum dedicated to the Holocaust that I had never even heard of before (Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust), being prompted to write some related thought on a piece of paper, then placing the tiny document into one of over a million small holes depicting children who had been slaughtered. The holes were drilled into stones affixed to surrounding, towering walls, with the size of each hole calibrated to the precise age each child perished. Among traumatic torrents of unforgettable images and words inside the museum was a record of how Jewish children were arrested in schools.

How fortunate I thought, that like Stanley Gayetzsky, my grandparents escaped from Russia, and managed to arrive here. Gayetzsky, better known as Stan Getz, had a sound that did not seem to be human, if one was fortunate enough to hear him in a live, intimate setting. Like many of us, he was also flawed as a human being, but he did contribute a great deal of beauty to the world, and perhaps that is the noblest aim of all music, as Lee Konitz once told me while discussing the music of his friend and colleague, Miles Davis, who had passed away recently.

And yes, the pancakes were remarkable. No doubt, Bird, would have loved them too, given myriad surviving anecdotes noting his gargantuan culinary appetites, and the legendary alto saxophonist may even have done so while performing in the City of Angels, the restaurant having opened in the thirties. Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg? They were both known to frequent the Farmer's Market, being residents of Los Angeles, and also having fled France and Germany, respectively. Who knows, maybe they enjoyed the pancakes (hotcakes) too on one or more occasions. A mischievous thought comes to mind of Schoenberg the dodecaphonist requiring twelve different flavored syrups to be poured in strict sequential form to his pancakes while eating.

- Michael Robinson, February 2015, Los Angeles

Postscript: Less than a week after writing this article, while handling a copy of my most recent album, The Spirit Pool, released last December, I noticed how the cover art consists of innumerable, minute, circle-like shapes similar to the design of the exhibition I had wandered to, this being one of those mystical coincidences we sometimes experience in life.

The Spirit Pool is based upon a Karnatic kriti (song) composed by Saint Thyagaraja, presenting several central phrases from the song followed by melodic and rhythmic elaborations using the swaras of Asavari Thaat. "Kriti" is a Sanskrit word also meaning "creation". Here are the words of the kriti titled "Nagumomu Ganaleni".

Invisible, smiling face
Knowing my sorrow
Won't you protect me?
You who lifted the Govardhana Hill
Your councilors cannot fail
To remind you of your duty to me
Could the King of Birds
Who obeys your every command
Refuse to bring you to me?
Might he say, "The earth where you live is too far from the sky?"
You are a great soul
Whose comfort and protection
Offer solace to the universe
To whom else can I voice my unhappiness?
I can't bear your tricks
Come to me

 

© 2015 Michael Robinson All rights reserved

Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).