Did you ever want to be part of the Los Angeles 60’s rock hipsters? Hop aboard Esotouric’s rock history tour “Where the Action Was,” for a multi-media, high-voltage all-around experience. It’s a cruise along the streets and back alleys of Hollywood and the Sunset Strip. Discover ‘ground zero’ of teen rebellion, youth culture, underground clubs, psychedelic recording studios, rock royalty reminiscence and glitterati galore.
The tour takes visitors to an eclectic mix of rock ‘n roll landmarks and mysteries ranging from the trendsetting to the absurd– all part of the 60’s Cultural Revolution and beyond. There are hotels like the Knickerbox Hotel where Elvis stayed when he recorded ‘Love Me Tender,’ the Alta Cienega Motel, one time residence of Jim Morrison on the corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Boulevard, or the Highland Gardens Hotel on Franklin Avenue where Janis Joplin OD’d so tragically of a bad batch of heroine.
Catch a glimpse of locations like the famous Anti-Club and the more recent Jumbos Clown Room where Courtney Love stripped before marrying Kurt Cobain.
Tour guide Kim “Scram” Cooper and her co-host Gene “Catalog of Cool” Sculatti keep the stories coming. Along the way, several other speakers take the mic to divulge their own treasure trove of personal anecdotes and hidden histories of LA’s famed and infamous underground. Those with an appetite for rock trivia and the profound are sure to be satisfied: from inside scoops of how the legendary club The Whisky-A-Go-Go got its name to Elton John’s rise to fame and fortune with a break-through performance at the Troubadour.
Visitors on the bus range from wide-eyed tourist couples, to interested locals and serious rock aficionados. They cheer and clap enthusiastically at the mention of ultra hip insider bands and locations.
On-board monitors play slide shows of rare rock ‘n’ roll photos, teen riots, and vintage television footage, including the Rolling Stone’s first TV show appearance in the U.S. hosted by a hilariously sarcastic Dean Martin.
At several stops, visitors can get off the bus for a closer look at the sites. Along for the ride is Carl, and at 74 is still rocking in a bright-colored headscarf and full hipster regalia. At the storefront of a 60’s dance and art happening spot, Carl lays down a free-form dance performance he helped initiate in the 60’s that he says revolutionized the era’s dance and club culture.
One of the real highlights of the tour is the fast friends visitors make amongst each other. I chat easily with Terry who fills in additional background from his own scintillating rockin’ LA youth. As the bus rolls by the Tropicana, now the Ramada Inn, he leans in closely, “Oh yeah, we used to see Tom Waits hang out here all the time. We called him ‘wolfman’, ‘cuz that’s how he looked. Before he became famous that was!” I nod duly impressed, Terry’s blue 60-something eyes shine with teenage excitement. “It was a great time. A time of giants.”
Everyone’s excited and several tour guests exchange phone numbers and cards. Terry waves and shouts, “You know where to find me!” before he’s off to the land where 60’s teen culture never ends. Carl kisses me on both cheeks with the firm promise to stay in touch. It’s all a bit of a throwback to ‘Peace, Love and Happiness,’ right off the bus of one of Esotouric’s most entertaining rides.
As the sun sets it’s time to take the dive into L.A.’s present-day thriving rock scene around “The Sunset Strip”-the area between Crescent Heights and Doheny Drive, stretching from Hollywood to Beverly Hills. A flashy collection of rock clubs and Hollywood hotspots, the Strip is the cutting edge of the entertainment business.
The Red Rock, a bar and eatery, offers “the best happy hour on the strip”. The hip atmosphere, patio seating overlooking the big clubs, $5 Martini Friday nights, and perhaps a glimpse of rock royalty, make this a prime space for partying loud and hard.
For dinner, Lola’s on Fairfax offers a casual retreat from the attention-starved cruisers on the Strip. The menu here is famous for over 50 variations of Martini’s and an eclectic cuisine ranging from the sumptuous to classical comfort foods including seared Ahi Tuna, Filet Mignon and an array of salads and desserts. Kick back on the leopard print couches and relax for just a while before getting ready to hit the legendary rock clubs on The Strip for live music, late night clubbing and celeb spotting.
The Whisky A-Go-Go is a must. The place is steeped in the roots of rock history. It helped launch the acts of rock greats like Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Buffalo Springfield. The term “Go-Go Girl” was born here. Try the upstairs area to view the crowd and people watch from high above the fray.
Just across the street, the world-famous Viper room appears deceptively inconspicuous behind a windowless black façade. This popular club has seen its share of tragedy and scandal. Talented young actor River Phoenix died here of a drug overdose on Halloween night 1993. Rockers Mick Jagger and Tommy Lee and their bodyguards both slugged it out with the paparazzi. Tonight it might be Cobra Snake or paparazzi extraordinaire, hot on the heels of Lindsey, Paris and Britney.
The club has hosted rock royalty from Johnny Cash to Tom Petty, Counting Crows, Lenny Kravitz, Pearl Jam, Iggy Pop and countless underground cult bands. Intimate and cozy, it holds only 250 people and is styled after the Harlem jazz clubs of the 1920’s. Upstairs, there’s dancing to live performances and a live DJ. The downstairs lounge and full bar entices with a more intimate atmosphere. A perfect place to wind down the night and a full day immersed deeply in the past and present of L.A.’s eclectic and ultra cool rock ‘n roll scene.
What & Where:
Esotouric: Bus Adventures into the secret heart of LA(www.esotouric.com)
Red Rock (8782 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood; 310-854-0701)
Lola’s (945 N. Fairfax Ave, West Hollywood; 310-736-5652)
Whisky A-Go-Go (8906 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles; 310-652-4202)
The Viper Room (8852 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles; 310-358-1880)
Silvia Kratzer is a professor of Film and Television at UCLA and at Chapman University. She has previously published her work in the academic field. More recently she has written screenplays and fiction and non-fiction essay published in the e—zine Crumpled Papers that she co-founded with other writing members and café literati of Hollywood. Originally from Germany, she has lived in Hollywood for over ten years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.