LA/LA Land : Fire and Music in California; status report

Features La/La Land

We learned the brutal lesson this week that fire has no respect for fame or talent.  The two fires ripping across Southern and Northern California have leveled the lives of the famous, the up and coming, and the heroic. With the Woolsey Fire only 47% contained as I write this and the Camp Fire gobbling up another 5000 acres last night, it is far too early to take account of the devastation.  But one thing is certain, there will be an impact on music in California.

What I know so far in the Malibu area is that Richard Gibbs, the former keyboard player for Oingo Boingo,  lost his Malibu home but apparently his famous Woodshed recording studio survived.  Robin Thicke and April Love Geary, Miley Cyrus, and Neil Young lost their  homes in the Woolsey Fire – the second time a home belonging to Young was destroyed by fire.  Producer/engineer/musician Charley Pollard lost his house in Malibu but apparently his Dragonfly Creek Recording Studio, used by folks like Lady Gaga, and Neil Young, is OK. Not so fortunate was the studio of  David Bowie collaborator , the pianist and keyboard master Mike Garson.  And, earlier this week, rising pop singer/songwriter Destiny Malibu posted an Instagram photo of the remains of  her parents’ home, where she lived.

As I write there is no word on the fates of the Malibu homes of Lady Gaga and former One Director singer Liam Payne, although it is now known that Ingrooves music Executive Michael Plen lost his home as he and family  had to flee with not much more than the clothes they were wearing and what they could carry.  Barbara Streisand’s Peach House, donated to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Foundation, was burned down — the loss of an important piece of music history.  As of this writing I don’t know the status of the Shangri-La recording studio built in Zuma Beach for Bob Dylan and The Band.

The Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village area apparently fared much better.  Calls to studios and venues yielded some “no available” but those studio operators who did answer, like the hip-hop/rap recording center Kush House Studio,  were unaffected.  One studio, Perks Place Recording, had to deal with flames at their back door but the business escaped unscathed . The famed Boogie’s Jazz Club, scene of a major fundraiser for fire victims last year, was closed for a couple of smoky days but is open and playing music, much to the relief of the LA jazz community.

But the worst devastation was in Paradise, California, just north of the state capitol, Sacramento.  Long a haven for retirees, artists, and musicians, it was a bucolic home for many in the folk and world music community.  The town no longer exists:  every building is gone including the town’s  handful of professional and home studios and music venues.

The stories are heartbreaking, reminding me of the incineration  of Music Junkie Press in the Tubbs fire in Sonoma county last year.  But, unlike the spotty destruction in Santa Rosa where Music Junkie was, there was nothing left standing in Paradise – no neighborhoods were spared, no homes and schools were down the road for shelter, no partially burned structures to rebuild.

Maurice at Himmel Street Records studio told me “it is all gone, burned to the ground, my equipment, my musical instruments, everything.”  He is hoping to rebuild but is now negotiating with his insurance company.

The most devastating and uplifting story I heard was about Justin Mora, musician and owner of what was Mora Sound, a full service enterprise in Paradise offering recording, equipment rental, DJ’ing, recording, production – everything for live or recorded music.  Like Maurice at Himmel Street Records, Mora was a musician and played locally. He told me he lost his home, the recording studio, all of his rental equipment, his musical instruments, and his music library. None of it was insured.

But regardless of the flames reducing his life to ashes, Justin’s cousins say he took time to help others, saving several lives while himself fleeing the Paradise fire. He gave his vehicle to an elderly woman and her dog trapped in a car that ran out of gas, and then, with them safe, he drove back into the fire to help a young woman find and rescue her boyfriend who was left behind.  Now he and his 4-year old daughter are homeless and without his musical instruments, he has no way of making a living. I donated to a gofundme site set up by his cousins to raise money for Justin and his daughter to rent someplace to live. As more information becomes available – and likely more gofundme sites, I will let you know.

Patrick O’Heffernan

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