In part 2 I take you on a tour of even more grand and kitschifyingly wonderful monuments of aesthetic in my beloved east San Fernando Valley just outside of Hollywood. This time eye-popping wonders include giant golf balls, plaster families, official city art that says I don’t know what about the city, nipping happy faces, Russian onion domes, ancient Italy, unnatural rock, glittery hemp, an airborne 59 Corvette,  Amelia Earhart and a misplaced giant Emmy.

If you haven’t seen Part 1 with the spewing volcanoes, frog families and shoe cars go here now.


These days I’ve dialed back down to decaf but every Sunday morning begins with a nice steaming cup of this stuff.  Now it’s slightly more exotic brands than Chase & Sanborn but this is the one that got the habit rolling back in the ’70s for me. Though the can may be a little battered now it actually represented lots of breakthroughs in coffee can packaging that revolutionized the industry.  For one, the No-Slip Strip, a little sardine like key that you broke off the bottom and used to wrap the metal strip that held the can together into a neat, tight coil avoiding bloody fingers that were inevitable without such an instrument.


Despite the company merging with Nabisco in 1981, a lot of Chase & Sanborn cans still exist today because the key allowed the can to open without squashing its shape so many people kept them to store a bunch of other junk in.


This can was also the first of Chase & Sanborn’s “Pressure Packed” models, an innovation that insured the coffee stay fresher longer inside its little coffee tomb.


Fresh is what I need today given the amount of coffee/decaf I will be chugging as I’m immersed in making sets, props, ipod playlists, name tags and the like for a huge party I’m throwing here next Sunday in addition to whacking away at several song deadlines and attempting to talk myself into working on my first ever performance in 35 years which I’ve also threatened to do this summer. It may not be Chase & Sanborn that I’m swigging back but memories of twisting open this can and THAT smell hitting my nose as I made a cup of coffee before starting out on my day in New York, banging on the doors of record companies trying to get a job, is enough to keep my senses alive and keep me slugging through the day.



I just got the news that Jerrie Thill, the 91-year-old female drummer on an oxygen tank who I did my song and video, “Hey Jerrie”, with in 2009, passed away last night. She was a killer drummer and an astounding spirit, albeit a slightly deflated one over this past year since she broke her hip and was no longer able to play. We became great friends after I met her in 2008 during one of her regular Sunday gigs at El Cid.


Jerrie was the hardest working woman in show business, smacking the drums since being discovered in the midwest by one of the Capone boys during Prohibition.


Eventually Jerrie moved to Hollywood in 1945 to be the bandleader at The Flamingo, a drag club on Sunset owned by Myron Cohen.

Jerrie-Thill-Publicity---Drums jerrie-2

She gigged constantly ever since, doing all kinds of dates including appearances on shows like The Golden Girls with her then band, The Dixie Belles, until her hip injury which happened just a few months after “Hey Jerrie” came out. The video caught on fire on YouTube and at one point was even the 12th most viewed video in the world. With no promotion it’s gotten almost a quarter of  a million views, a source of great happiness to Jerrie and mandatory viewing for anyone who walked into her house or hospital room. If you haven’t seen it please watch it now as a way of paying tribute to this fine, ever-foxy lady who smacked the skins like no other.


I’m happy to say that Jerrie was sharp all the way to the end. She loved to gossip and talk about music which we did frequently.


She did one final performance at El Cid after her hip broke.


I was set on re-cutting my song “Neutron Dance” with her, the jungle drumming on that being something that Jerrie could do in style, and getting The Pointer Sisters to sing backup on the record. I reassured her that in this day and age we could cut one drum at a time but I think she couldn’t deal with the fact that she had slowed down at all so it sadly never happened.


I’ll miss Jerrie a lot but am heartened by the fact that she knew it was her time to go and that she can make a lot more ruckus up there, free from injury and age. I’m assuming she’s playing her signature song, “When You’re Smiling”, right now.

jerrie7vid Jerrie-Thill---White-Tuxedo

For more essential Jerrie hit these links:



market-basket-coffee-can_2418I love names that are this unassuming.  Market Basket Coffee.  But who wants their coffee to taste like a market basket when you think about it? It’s not very exotic, just a bunch of metal bars being rolled around and stuffed with  food, cleaning products, panty liners and the like. Maybe it was a brand from some big supermarket called Market Basket. Maybe they just wanted to be super generic and basic like a good cup of coffee sitting next to a fried egg; no muss/no fuss, just a nice basic breakfast that won’t upset your stomach and a nice vintage can that still looks good.

The can is battered from decades of use, missing the top and scratched, but still has a permanent spot in the Willis Wonderland kitchen holding its precious cargo that also starts with a ‘c’, cat food.



I bought this Liberace mug at the first Hollywood estate sale I went to when I moved to LA in the late 70’s. I think Jack Hellman, the recipient of this inscribed mug from Liberace, was a critic at Variety.  I know that he was a Taurus.


Whatever he was he was a big deal who had very fancy clothes and a lot of personal gifts from a lot of  Hollywood stars.  I also bought a tux jacket there, maybe Jack’s, that I wore a lot right after “September” came out and I started getting invited to fancy music events.


Of course, no matter what I wore I never was going to dress better than Liberace….


….to whom I lift my/Jack’s mug now!



With 3D all the rage today many people forget that the first ubiquitous mass consumer experience with the technology was with View-Masters.  Introduced in 1962, one could view seven 3D images as they spun around on a paper disc creating lifelike reality inside the mouse hole of two eyepieces. The earliest View-Masters featured popular tourist attractions like this one of Miami Beach, where I first started buying these.


When I was young my parents drove to Miami Beach from Detroit twice a year.


We stayed at the Carlyle Hotel.


I bought every Viewmaster reel of Miami Beach I could find because the Deco architecture drove me so batty. When I had my first hit record I immediately bought a house that reminded me of Miami Beach.


A frequent visitor to my house is Charles Phoenix, one of my best friends and Kitschmaster General of vintage slide shows and books featuring insanely on-the-nose location and human examples of living wheels of brie.  The last time he came over, Charles gave me a lesson in how to bake one of his signature Cherpumples, a cake with three pies stuffed inside of it.  As soon as I get done editing the footage we shot I will post our instructional film.


Something like the Cherpumple with M&Ms bubbling out of the pepto -bismolian-pink frosting and utensils at rest would make an excellent 3D photo if only we had the right camera.


Yesterday, I went downtown with Prudence Fenton, Nancye Ferguson and Jim Burns and saw Charles’ first ever all 3D retro slide show.


We learned a lot about how 3-D photography and View-Masters came into being.


We saw a lot of families in the 50’s learning how to not only use their View-Masters but make their own 3D reels.


Of course, you won’t be able to see anything clearly because you don’t have your 3-D glasses on. As opposed to this slide from Charles’ show featuring an attractive threesome with a very clear view of the LA freeway when it was built in 1960 standing less than 10 feet away next to oncoming traffic.


I hope to have a clear view of the week ahead of me although it could go either way. I could feel like an outsider…


… or I could choose to see the world in super enhanced, bigger than life 3D.


Thank you, Charles for an excellent afternoon and thank you View-Master for putting 3-D in the palm of our hands.



I love, love, love crafts projects, especially when they go awry, and this coffee cup with saucer collar is one of my favorites. That it says “Happy Mother’s Day” despite its unmistakable portraiture of a mustached, bow-tied man is just the tip of the kitsch iceberg! The glitter is gooped on with an overabundance of still visible glue. Mom is decidedly not dishwasher friendly. Precision was not on the side of the hand that shaped the facial features, all of which are made of felt with excessively crooked edges. And the glitter on the handle nose makes it grossly uncomfortable to pick up, not that you would want to anyway as the saucer, should you be imbibing your Mother’s Day joe with Dad or any other human being, blocks your vision when tilted toward mouth.

I can only hope there’s an equally as lovely Father’s Day cup with mom’s face on it sitting somewhere on this Mother’s Day.



Last night I found myself in the middle of another food fest, this time at Ciudad, another one of Top Chef Master competitor Susan Feniger’s restaurants in LA which she owns along with co-stupendous Chef Mary Sue Milliken.  Border Grill in Santa Monica and Las Vegas is theirs too.  As long as Susan remains on Top Chef Masters there’ll be a screening of the Bravo show each week at one of her restaurants, including my beloved Street.


Just like the first time that Susan was on and slayed the dragon in both challenges, it happened again last night as she and her blue team won a blindfolded Quickfire challenge and cooking for an out-of-town wedding party of 150 guests. As they toiled away, those of us at Ciudad sat outside downtown, hugged by gorgeous skyscrapers, watching it on TV.


Sample portions of some the winning food was passed around as we watched the competing chefs cook it. Here’s the Potato Baujia with mint cilantro chutney:


When I go to dinner I don’t like to eat at long tables. Not only do you get cheated out of who might be down at the other end but sometimes the food hovers perilously out of your reach. For occasions like this I like to have my trusty Extendable Fork.


Luckily I was good friends with everyone sitting at my table, (L-R) Prudence Fenton, Liz Lachman, me, Chef Susan, Nancye Ferguson and Jim Burns, so using the Extendable Fork was not viewed as an intrusion.


I managed to poke the 3 foot long fork into almost everything. I was too busy perfecting my utensil maneuvers, however, to remember to photograph my favorite salad EVER, the Romaine Hearts with chile rajas, plantain croutons, cabrales and blue cheese vinaigrette, as well as the Argentine Empanadas with wild mushroom, warm chipotle sauce; spinach with pine nuts, raisins, manchego and salsa verde and the Chorizo Crusted Diver Scallops with wild seasonal mushrooms, yuca 2 ways, green gazpacho sauce and minted baby tomatoes. I did, however, manage to hold the camera as well as my Extendable Fork while eating the following dishes:

Peruvian Ceviche with mahi mahi, avocado, lime, ginger and aji amarillo chile:


Roasted Red and Gold Beet Salad with frisee, goat cheese emulsion, marcona almonds, olive crumble and thyme gelée:


Piquillo Glazed Boneless Beef Short Ribs with roasted garlic and plantain mofongo, brussel sprouts and bacon and radish salad:


Regretfully, I forgot to use my Extendable Fork for the following two dishes. Grilled Skirt Steak with warm salad of arugula, baby potatoes, seared red onion, portobello mushrooms, shishito peppers and red chimichurri…


… and, I could be wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure this is lightly seeded and seared Ono Poblano Tiradito with avocado, petite greens, roasted poblano chile sauce, and soy-aji panca sauce.  Either that or it’s the Roasted Poblano Chile Relleno with potato rajas, cotija cheese, quinoa salad, salsa verde and spiced tomato sauce. I forgot to take a photo of one of them and have no idea which. I can just tell you that whatever this was it was delicious. (Looking at it closer now I’m changing my vote to the Chile Relleno because of those little round grain things poking out of the sauce.)


All of this was topped off with seven different desserts including Rainforest Macadamia Brownie with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce,
dulce de leche and toasted coconut and Berry Encanalado, a light sponge cake, cajeta and macerated fresh berries with maple whipped cream.


It was incredible to eat a meal watching the very chef who prepared it battle for food supremacy on TV.  Susan was the only chef I saw last night who dove to the floor in service of culinary perfection:


I’m not sure what she’s doing down there but I’m pretty sure it led to winning the challenge with the Egyptian Semolina Cake with Berries & Cream, shown here in this incredibly blurry photo as my Extendable Fork, in use by someone else at the table, knocked my arm as I tried to take the shot.


It was a winning night all the way around. I got to see Mary Sue, who I haven’t seen since she and Susan hosted an Obama fundraiser at her house featuring 40 different dishes in 2008.


That’s Prudence Fenton down in front. She also enjoyed the use of the Extendable Fork last night.


The Extendable Fork and I felt this was a very memorable meal and salute Susan for nailing all four Top Chef Masters challenges she’s faced so far.


The Extendable Fork, also known as The Freeloader Fork,  is available at Archie McPhee.  Great food is available at Ciudad, Border Grill and STREET.


tree bushes-on-building145

If ever there were a garden for 2010 with no water required, no gardening bills to pay and always picture perfect plumage on well-sculpted almost-topiary-but-without-the-cute-animals tree/bushes this would be it.

I love interspersing the rectangle tree with the ball trees. Thought was definitely put into the planning of this garden.

I also love tree arrangements when actual nature is involved. Here are a few from around LA that would go well with the excellent brick landscaping above.

tree_3612 A tree_3648 trees_8734 tree_4317 tree

All trees are beautiful. Bushes sculpted to look like trees are even more beautiful. Murals painted to look like sculpted trees and bushes are more beautiful still.



One sure shot sign of Kitsch is when someone’s idea stops at the first thought and doesn’t spin off into a more creative zone that produces deeper, more interesting and creative spinoff ideas. This holds true with any creative vision, from telling a story to writing a song to thinking of a name for your business.

I’ve long been enamored with the mind that’s capable of stopping at the simple, most obvious thought. Like when looking for a name that implies your hair skills are performed with artistry you settle upon Artistry With Hair and a simple clip art logo of an 80’s couple that must have graced signs, business cards and matchbooks in thousands of salons, many of which were probably also named Artistry With Hair or something perilously close, during that decade when this sign was undoubtedly made. And if it was made later than the 80s, double kitsch points for sticking with so dated a look.

What is just as simple and at the same time not anywhere near as simple – the kind of organic incongruity that’s become a comfortable pattern in my life – is the matter of my own hair which is having its roots touched up as I write this.


Maintaining my hair style is the simple part. I’ve been cutting it myself every morning for 27 years – long on one side, short on the other, shaved part way up the back or not depending on my mood.

aw w statue37

Acquiring the hairdo was the not-so-simple part. After having long, curly even locks for 10+ years, a disastrous trip to the hairdressers in 1984 resulted in a wispy Farrah-Fawcett-flippy-bangs-and-whispy-strands-of-hair-around-the-face cut.  This was 7 years after The Farrah hit which caused me, always style conscious and never wanting to embrace a trend unless I was one of the first ones there, to go into a 31 day lockdown cutting more and a little bit more off one side every day in attempts to find an ideal length.  Finally, I was forced to go out lopsided as months before I had invited a bunch of frends to see the opening screening of Rhinestone, a really bad, kitsch filled film starring Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone. When no one even reacted that something very wrong was going on on one side of my head I figured it just looked natural and stayed with it, uncommitted to a perfect length to this day. It led to a fantastic conversation with Farrah about my hair. And here we are 27 years later with me still lopsided. Such is the nature of “Artistry With Hair”.