Ry Cooder at Book Soup
The Sunset Strip
West Hollywood, CA
by Victoria Joyce
Photography by Mila Reynaud
Within spitting distance to The Viper Room, The Whisky, The Roxy, Rainbow and Key Club, the (almost) last independent book store in West Hollywood is Book Soup. Rockers who write make this a necessary stop on any promo tour and BS knows which side the bread is buttered on. It’s normal to see a line out front.
Last night Duff McKagan was reading and signing his book “It’s So Easy and Other Lies.” Next week they got Nile Rogers and Henry Rollins the week after that. But tonight we are here to hear legendary guitar god, Ry Cooder read, sign and spin tales from his book, “Los Angeles Stories” and drop a few gems about his latest musical release ” Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down.” Featuring the song “No Banker Left Behind,” we love it without hearing
Ry Cooder is a master on the guitar and has been the go-to guy for session work since the 60s. Just ask Neil Young, Van Morrison, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton or Jackson Browne. You can’t ask Johnny Cash because he’s in Heaven.
Several dozen fans jammed the aisles on this unseasonably warm evening in LA to hear these Raymond Chandler/James Ellroy-like reflections of growing up in So Cal in the 50s and 60s. We love that dark underbelly stuff of Tinsel Town.
Interviewed by Book Soup staffer, Tosh Berman, we got the lay of the land, “Each chapter represents a year.” The overview being, ”People telling their stories of hard times and failures.” Cooder reflected on his intro to music, “KXLA out of Pasadena played Hillbilly music for the workers at the defense plant. And local musicians recorded the commercials – ‘come on down and get with us.’ I’d get off the electric bus on Berendo for the Jazzman Record Store.”
Ry’s favorite scandal revolves around Chevez Ravine – the land grab that built Dodger’s Stadium and displaced thousands of poor Latinos. “Developers have always run LA, with the cops, Chief Parker and the Church, Cardinal Mahony.” Cooder draws a comparison to a popular boxer from the era, Carlos Chaves. “The boxer is
the classic tragic figure, set up as the fall guy.”
A question from the audience “Are you into UFOs?” Answer, “Oh yes!” draws a round of giggles. “Because I want to see one. I like the idea that they’ve seen these events.” Telling the crowd initially, he never intended these stories for public consumption. But after a meeting with Bob Dylan prior to a tour, Dylan asked him “What are you going to sell? I have a line of women’s clothes. Merchandising is big!” Ry got with the good people at City Lights Books and put this thing together.
Ry tells of his favorite local TV show from the 50s that featured country and rock legends like Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. “Come down and get with us.” His main reference for his book was a 1931 directory of the city that gave names and occupations. “Three thousand pages long! There was only one Hispanic doctor, fifty Chinese dentists and hundreds of pages of pants pressers. And apartment buildings with names.” A beloved signature of Los Angeles. “If I needed a name (for a story) I got it here. It’s the hidden things, like the Mexican Hospital.” Then related the racist practice of diagnosing Latinos with TB in order to deport them. “I love it when the veil is pulled back.”
One of Ry Cooder’s favorite characters from those days was a jazz musician named Billy Tipton, who was a woman but lived as a man. Migrating to LA after growing up in the Midwest in her mother’s boarding house that catered to musicians, she developed a great talent but women were not allowed to be jazz musicians so she
opted to live as a man, even married three times and her secret was kept until her death. Cooder highly recommends her autobiography “Suits Me.”
Cooder wound up the evening with his story of visiting the late, great John Lee Hooker in his last days. “He was in his bedroom with the curtains drawn watching TV, wearing black PJs, sunglasses and a derby. Robert Mitchum was on the screen and Hooker couldn’t figure out – ‘sometimes he’s a cop and sometimes a cowboy and sometimes a bad guy.” Chuckling as he told Mr. Hooker different films have different stories. They were very good friends.
During the book signing portion of the personal appearance, the question kept coming up, when are you going to play LA? Cooder told of a beloved side man who was having some health issues, but left the door open. He’s not done yet, not by a dam site.