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A Los Angeles Primer Debuts on KCET Departures

Each Tuesday, KCET Departures, a site about Los Angeles run by the city’s well-known public television station, will run essays adapted from my book-in-progress A Los Angeles Primer. The debut features Dennis Hopper, David Hemmings, and the reasons I got here in the first place:

No two people have ever lived in exactly the same Los Angeles. Sheer size has something to do with that, not to mention practical boundaries. With four million inhabitants and 500 square miles in within its bizarre-looking official border alone, the city takes on barely thinkable proportions when you include everywhere someone might live and still call “Los Angeles.” This dilution of effective residency does strange things to the city’s psychology; ask someone who claims to hate living in Los Angeles where exactly they call home, and half the time it lays as far from downtown as Parsippany, New Jersey does from Manhattan. Parsippanites, like everyone else, blame their frustrations on many things, but not, surely, that they live in New York.

You could argue, as cinephiles do about Hemmings himself, over whether Los Angeles delivered on its youthful promise. A decade before “The Simpsons,” Matt Groening self-published a comic book, later to become a Los Angeles Reader strip, called “Life in Hell.” He meant to provide an introduction to Los Angeles, a project like Hemmings and Hopper’s optimistic one of the 1960s, but reflecting the notably less exuberant mood of the late 1970s. Growing up, I pored over all the “Life in Hell” comics I could get in the Seattle of the nineties, a city dosing the national zeitgeist with equal parts Nirvana, Microsoft, and Starbucks. Seattle was “young,” “high-tech,” “edgy,” “hip,” and “livable.” Los Angeles was, well, hell. Yet the waves of emigration to Los Angeles from every other city in America, Seattle included — from nearly every city in the world — never stopped. Openly loathed yet so obviously attractive; that town had to have something going for it, and something unusual indeed.

Read the whole thing there. And why not bookmark the column itself, so you won’t miss my coming postcards from Koreatown, West Hollywood, La Brea Avenue, and the subway?

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