THE SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS: RANGE ON THE EDGE by Matthew Jaffe and Tom Gamache (Angel City Press, December 2006)


Topanga's spirt of back-to-the-land Bohemia endures, although it is increasingly vulnerable to change. Novelist T. C. Boyle's "The Tortilla Curtain" portrayed the social tensions of the 1990s as Topanga evolved more fully into a bedroom community of increasing affluence. And one of the last vestiges of Topanga bohemia, a loose community of artists and surfers living in shacks in the lower Canyon, was evicted after the state parks department acquired the land. In an attempt to capture the Lower Topanga culture and rally support, in 2002 the artists here published a small book of poetry and essays titled "Idlers of the Bamboo Grove: Poetry from Lower Topanga Canyon." Plans call for a restoration of native vegetation and the wetlands near the canyon mouth and a trail that will lead from the Valley to the Pacific.

THE MALIBU TIMES -- November 16, 2006

"Party On, Dudes!"

by Kim Devore
Photos by Gary

Kim Devore, who is celebrating her 10th anniversary this year as a staff writer for The Malibu Times, looks back at the wild Malibu of the '60s and '70s. This was an era of "anything goes," from beach blanket bingo to love beads to bongs.

In the 60 years that The Malibu Times has been the city's newspaper of record, locals of every stripe have had something to celebrate; the end of WW II, the Elvis era, the Woodstock nation, the AMC Pacer, the Reagan revolution, the baby boom presidency of Bill Clinton.

But many long times say the beachside community was at its mind-blowing best during the '60s and '70s. You can just ask local realtor Jim Rapf, or you can at least try. "I was there," he says of Malibu's decadent, free-wheeling days, "but I'm not sure I remember it."

Actually, Rapf is a fountain of knowledge on local lore. His family has been in Malibu since the 1920s. He spent weekends at the family beach house and move here on a permanent basis in 1956. "When I was a kid I'd spend a lot of time in Serra Retreat or Surfrider or fishing on the pier," he recalls. "It was different, all open fields back then."

When it was time to refuel, Rapf and his pals headed out to the Malibu Inn for ice cream or Neenie's Famous Weenies (now Gladstone's) for a famous Neenie weenie.

Suddenly the '60s were in full swing. Rapf found himself living with a bunch of guys on Topanga Beach, and from that moment on life became a full-on 24-hour fiesta.

"It was wild," he recalls. "Everybody was living on the beach in these rentals. I had 11 other guys living with me and everyone had converted garages."

His groovy gang and nearby neighbors shared common goals, hopes and dreams; most having to do with getting babes and getting buzzed.

"We had a party for every occasion," he says. "Daylight Savings Day, Arbor Day, Memorial Day, any reason we could think of to party." And they had no problem persuading other to join in the festivities. "On Sunday we'd sit on the roof with a keg of beer, play Credence Clearwater and the girls would just pull over. Then the hippies would come down from the canyon and smoke pot and drop LSD."

Lloyd Ahern was of Rapf's party pals. "You had the surf culture and the music culture and the drug culture and it all merged at the beach," Ahern recalls. "Everybody had at least two dogs and we all just walked in and out of each other's houses."

Ahern says some of their trippy-hippy happenings were legendary. "one time we had this band on the roof. Everyone was in the water. We must have had 400 people on the beach and half of them were naked."

After a hard day of merry making with buddies like Steve Spina and Beer Can Larry, Rapf would pop across the street to unwind at The Raft (now the Reel Inn). From time to time, he'd venture to Chez Jay in Santa Monica. And when he did, he took the party on the road.

"No one thought twice about driving around with a beer in their hand," Rapf says. "The back seat of my VW was full of cans."

There were plenty of other Malibu party places like Ted's Rancho, Don the Beachcomber and Tonga Lei. Moonshadows was called the Big Rock Beach Restaurant, there was a gay establishment called La Mer. And Alice's was known as The Sportsman's Club. The Sea Lion (now Duke's) was famous for seals in the parking lot. The Albatross next door was infamous for offering not-on-the-menu items in the upstairs bedrooms.

For Pete McKellar, there was nothing like The Cottage. "That was the place," he says, "sawdust on the floors, pot-belly, pool table in the back, all the people of the day. You're talking a lot of miscreants when you're talking old Malibu. It was more fun than you could ever imagine."

But nothing and no one managed to keep up with life on Topanga Beach. Like all good things, the high times had to come to an end. In 1979, the State seized control of the beach, knocked down the homes and put up a parking lot.

No one's exactly sure what happened to Beer Can Larry, but Rapf, Ahern, Spina and others went on to successful careers and put their wild days behind them.

Today, Rapf can't drive by the old neighborhood without recalling some kind of outrageous adventure. But more than nostalgia, he feels a sense of relief. "We all thought we were immortal back then," he says, reflecting on his far out follies. "I feel lucky I survived."

Ahern remembers the Purple Haze daze a bit more fondly: "Everything was new back then. Everyone was so free. It was Camelot, just a magic moment in time."

TOPANGA MESSENGER -- October 19, 2006

"Lower Topanga Life Forms Framework for Two Newly Released Graphic Books"

By Pablo Capra
Artwork by Toylit

Brass Tacks Press, which published “Idlers of the Bamboo Grove: Poetry from Lower Topanga Canyon” (2002), released two new books about Lower Topanga—”The Snake Pit” by Baretta and “Prevenge of the Androgynous Cyborg Pyrates from the Future: Part 1, Voyage of the Timeship Medusa” by Toylit in September.

“The Snake Pit” is a collection of short stories based on Baretta’s life as a cocaine dealer in the eponymous Lower Topanga neighborhood in the late ’70s and ’80s.

“‘The Snake Pit’ got its nickname because there were always a lot of snakes down there,” Baretta explains. “But that nickname was also coupled with the fact that everyone from Charlie Manson to Johnnie-Satan to Kilroy to Big Dude to Eater to Baretta, and maybe people before us, were considered kind of like snakes because of the personalities and stuff that went on there.”

Baretta describes how he first moved to the Snake Pit when a friend offered to rent him a flood-damaged house.

“I had to shovel it out, waist-deep in liquid mud like it was soup.”

Cover from a collection of short stories by Baretta, a Lower Topanga cocaine dealer.

The Topanga of Baretta’s stories is older, untamed and often unrecognizable from the present. In one story he writes about actual Wild West showdowns that were held between feuding neighbors: “They threatened each other for years, marching up and down the road with their rifles. The threats were more or less idle but the guns were real, and they would shoot them off in the air sometimes, and I questioned my safety in this neighborhood that I had chosen.”

Then there was the gang problem. According to Baretta, The Heathens—a biker gang whose members lived next door—were notorious for “dumping mutilated women’s bodies in the desert.”

“The Heathens used to love to operate down in the Snake Pit around one or two in the morning. They rode gnarly Harley’s, not nice, pristine, shiny ones but old Heathen ones put together with shoestring and tin cans. They’d be swooping around, pulling 360s, and the dust would be coming up like the Indians were going to attack.”

Baretta says he started selling cocaine because “our little area seemed like the right environment for that clientele,” but soon developed his own drug problem.

“I lost so much time in my life when hours and days and weeks just passed by in a coke blur,” Baretta confesses. “You might clean up for a week or two, and then you’d just slide right back into it because of the money, the high, the chicks who’d come over to exchange sex for a line late at night. Even other people’s girlfriends would tell you, ‘Hey, I kind of have a thing for you, Baretta. Just give me another nice line there and we can make out.’’”

Ironically, the locals were hostile towards Baretta at first because they believed he was an undercover narcotics officer. Hence his nickname (“Baretta” was a TV series at the time about an undercover cop starring Robert Blake).

However, Baretta writes, “I didn’t care about my reputation as a nark. That was part of my mystique. I was into a lot of illegal stuff too and hanging out with the cops was part of my cover. You know like ‘Baretta,’ that sounds all cop! You’re on our side. You must have a gun. Do you know Robert Blake?’ And I’d be like, ‘Not! Don’t look at my scale on the desk there!’ So it was kind of a double cover.”

“The Snake Pit” also describes the histories and communities of a few other Lower Topanga neighborhoods.

“There were actually two main neighborhoods within the Lower Topanga village—the Snake Pit and the Rodeo Grounds. The Rodeo Grounds had picked up that nickname before I was around. It got its name because Tom Mix, the silent film star, the highest paid actor in Hollywood, would party with the real cowboys from the Rindge and Adamson ranches down there.”

Toylit, who illustrated “The Snake Pit,” uses the Rodeo Grounds as the setting for his graphic novel, “Prevenge of the Androgynous Cyborg Pyrates from the Future: Part 1, Voyage of the Timeship Medusa.”

Illustrator Toylit’s take on the Lower Topanga eviction proceedings as portrayed in the graphic novel, “Prevenge of the Androgynous Cyborg Pyrates from the Future: Part 1, Voyage of the Timeship Medusa.” Parents be warned, these are definitely adult-rated comics.

Using a bizarre science-fiction/autobiographical approach, Toylit tells the history of the Rodeo Grounds from the time of the Indians all the way up to his eviction by State Parks earlier this year.

The story begins when he realizes, for some unexplained reason, that he needs to build a time machine.

“Almost instantly I went into an eight-month depression,” Toylit writes. “I didn’t know the first thing about science or machinery. I was a poet, penniless, living in an anarchist squat in the mountains surrounded by hot naked women. I wanted to die.”

But with the help of his “Timeship Crew,” he does manage to build one by using his Airstream trailer—“Timeship Medusa”—and the experiences he collects from taking the powerful psychedelic DMT. The latter are hilarious, mysterious, and combined with mind-altering artwork: “I was shot through this long tunnel made of a sort of webbing of Scandinavian Pop-stars that led to a kind of mechanical salad bar full of butterfly puppets. They were all singing and they wanted me to sing too, so I did. And all these trees started growing out of my mouth.”

It is unclear what time Toylit and his crew hope to travel to. Maybe they’re just looking for a good time. Unfortunately, the Androgynous Cyborg Pyrates from the Future do not appear yet in this first installment of the graphic novel. Instead, Toylit’s book climaxes with the last Lower Topanga party which he threw shortly before his eviction.

Toylit has written one previous comic, “The Children’s Guide to Astral Projection.” He also illustrated “Idlers of the Bamboo Grove” and Baretta’s first book “Rat Tales.” A coauthor of the “Crap Poetry Manifesto,” Toylit has published his poetry in “The Last Nowhere” and “Craplexity,” as well as on actual rolls of toilet paper.

Baretta’s and Toylit’s books are available at Lobal Orning and on the Brass Tacks Press website at

eBLIPS -- September 24, 2006

"ToyLit Issues TimeShip Medusa Tome"

by Twist

“All we can do is remain present, because the future is too horrifying and the past is too embarrassing.” That’s a quote from James Mathers, aka ‘Toylit,” quoted in Dani Katz’s column in the latest LA Weekly. James has just completed the first installment of his graphic novel, "Prevenge of the Androgynous Cyborg Pyrates from the Future." It kicks off with a re-telling of the glory days at the Topanga Rodeo Grounds TAZ. More on Mr. Mathers at the Institute for ACausal Studies.

LA WEEKLY 9-22-06

Excerpt from "Black Cats, Soccermoms and Bisquits"

Dani Katz

As things died down, I... got into a meaty dialogue with [James] Mathers, who looked dashing in a tan suit accessorized with orange scarf and sport sandals. He told me about the movement he’s heading up (working title: The Crapture) and the manifesto he’s working on to unify a collective intention among local artists, thinkers, dreamers and weirdoes that would draw upon the brilliance of the Dadaists, who abandoned reason, the Cubists, who bent space, and Mathers’ own prescription for these mad times: “All we can do is remain present, because the future is too horrifying and the past is too embarrassing,” he said before pecking me on the cheek and dashing off to hustle a sale.


"Keyboardist Roessler Turns to Poetry to Deal with Dark Period in His Life"

by Rahne Pistor

Being a skilled keyboardist in the center of a rock 'n' roll reawakening with plenty of raw, unbridled rebellious energy and creativity but very few fluent musicians places you in great demand, Paul Roessler found out as L.A.'s punk scene exploded in the late 1970s.

He was an essential part of early Los Angeles punk favorites The Screamers, played with goth punk innovators 45 Grave, and was sought out by eccentric German pop diva Nina Hagen to record on the CBS Records release Nunsexmonkrock, the first record that Hagen sang in English.

Later, Roessler added musical production to his areas of expertise as he began working with punk/alternative producer Geza X at his Satellite Park studio retreat, which overlooks the canyons in Malibu.

Now Roessler has turned to poetry, and plans to debut a work he wrote over a period of six months focused on what he describes as some of the darkest and most dismal days of the eight years of his life that he was a drug addict. The poetic work is titled "Eight Years" and will be released as a chapbook by Brass Tacks Press.

Roessler is scheduled to do a reading at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 8th, at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd., Venice. Roessler will share the bill with fellow punk scene favorite Keith Morris and his most recent project, Midget Handjob, a group whose chaotic whirlwind of sound might best be likened to the sonic result of jazz punk and spoken word poetry being run through a garbage disposal. Suggested donation is $7 for general admission and $5 for students.

It might have been a cliche story, had Roessler become a drug casualty of the early Los Angeles punk scene days like so many of his contemporaries in the 1970s and 1980s.

But it wasn't until he was in his 30s in the 1990s that his life became overrun by addiction to methamphetamines, he says. It took him about eight years before he finally shook the habit in 2002.

And it wasn't until this past year that he was inspired enough to write about his experiences.

For a six-month stretch, Roessler went to work in areas of Mississippi devastated by Hurricane Katrina. He was working with a consulting company that photographed the destruction caused by the natural disaster.

"I saw real suffering," says Roessler. "I saw people pulling out bodies and true destruction."

It was just this destruction that he says most likely caused him to go back and revisit a dark period of destructiveness in his own life through poetry. He worked on the writings throughout his stay in Mississippi, having no background in poetry except for the lyrics of songs he had written.

"Poems just started coming out," says Roessler. "Well, I don't like to call them poems out of respect for the genre. I don't study poetry, and I don't read poetry."

But somehow a 24-part poetic work resulted dealing with drug addiction, family and his experiences in music.

Roessler got married around the time he joined the Nina Hagen Band in the early 1980s, and within a few years had two children. With his family, he has maintained some stability in what is often the solidly unstable life of a punk rock musician.

"Some people put the music and writing and creativity above everything, where family and children play second fiddle, but I've never been able to do that," says Roessler. "Some are willing to go all the way and commit to art above living."

Roessler has somehow managed to maintain both, even when performing with groups considered at the fringe of pop eccentricity.

In the late 1990s, after about a 15-year hiatus, Roessler was asked to rejoin as keyboardist for Nina Hagen, who still enjoys a successful touring career and pop stardom in her native Germany, while she maintains cult status in the United States.

"Nina Hagen was able to really connect culturally in Germany, even though she's pretty out there by their standards as well. In the United States, however, she's just one step too far removed from American pop culture."

The influential punk bands Roessler started out with also proved too far removed for mainstream American culture, although their influence reverberated through less substantive "pop-punk" groups in the late 1990s.

It was perhaps his theory on music which helped develop the two-way street of attraction between Roessler and more eccentric pop/rock artists.

"When I play keyboards on a song, it's my goal to achieve what I call emotional violence," says Roessler. "Meaning, if the song is sad, I want to make my part sound so intensely sad. If the song is angry, I want my part to sound so intensely angry."

Bands that Roessler worked with (including the Dead Kennedys) often had a strong political, social or artistic message in their works. But still Roessler says he's skeptical that music is truly an effective tool to bring about meaningful social change.

"It's very rarely that a song touches people so deeply that the message is woven into people's daily reality," Roessler says. "However, it can affect people's hearts. It can get people angry and worked up."

"There are pop bands today like Green Day or Neil Young that are saying something relevant. But they are wealthy and perhaps disconnected from the people they want to change. Truly, people change by example. When Gandhi wanted to change India, he wore homespun robes and nearly starved himself to death for his cause. People change through the examples that they see."

But Roessler sees a lack of positive examples among today's mainstream American society.

"Right now we have a fascist government that's creating bombs that can be controlled with a joystick," he says. "It's us, it's our culture that chooses to live that way."


PCH PRESS -- April 29, 2006

"Crap Poetry: A Multi-Media Event"

By Tawny Sverdlin
Photo by Fernando Alonso

VENICE - Last Sunday evening April 23rd at the Sponto gallery in Venice three recent exiles of lower Topanga; Toylit, Log and

Two exhibited artwork and poems from their recent chapbooks "The Last Nowhere", Craplexity", "Nothing Next to Nothing" and the "Crap Poetry Manifesto" (Brass Tacks Press). On the walls of the gallery hung Toylit's drawings and paintings. As the invitation promised " This psychological spaceship includes art, performance, and fake enlightenment by Toylit, Log, Two, and YOU! Wear a costume and bring your favorite stupid musical instrument!"

The small gallery was stuffed with people ranging from mohawked young hipsters to grey-haired hippies, who spilled out into the street talking and drinking wine. Pablo Capra aka Two sat at a table near the entrance to the gallery selling books and rolls of toilet paper upon which poems had been printed. Next to him a woman painted ornate designs on the faces of gallery visitors.

On the walls artist Toylit's chaotic drawings were interspersed with strips of toilet paper upon which poems were printed. One drawing featured a crude drawing of a sad rabbit with red tears. A circle of yellow lines centered around the rabbit's chest while the writing below it stated "I'm not crying my eyes are bleeding/ my heart is the sun". An earlier work of Toylit's was placed on the back wall of the gallery. The large painting was called Krishna and featured kaleidoscopic swirls of yellow and orange around Hindu deity Krishna who was painted in electric blue glitter paint.

Log, a statuesque, tall and thin young woman in her twenties had taken center stage by the time I had arrived. Stripping off her long raven wig to reveal a closely shorn head of red fuzz. She laughed a strange high-pitched cackle that perfected her radiant aura of weirdness. She proceeded to strip off more clothing until she stood naked and skinny in the center of the room. She and a friend, an equally tall and skinny young man with white blonde hair and a top hat and eye-liner began to stage an 'argument" in gibberish. Both seemed experienced at improvisation.

Next Log and Toylit, a barefoot man in a pin-striped suit, and a handsome, rugged face with thin, light brown curly hair took turns reading from their recent chapbooks. The crowd cringed in disgust and laughed when Log recited a poem entitled "Western Medicine" that chronicled a visit to the gynecologist. It began "Sitting in the OBGYN's Office/ My Orifice about to be Exposed/ Waiting for the Cold metal Prod And the Chalkboard Cervical Scratch".

A memorable poem that Toylit recited was called "Puffy the Clampire Slayer" and included a verse that read "I am a Soldier, I am a Sexually Transmitted Disease, like Language or Syphilis/ I only aim to Please My Maker/ My Destroyer My Star-Spangled Dracula. / Here They Come to Scrape Me off the Street/ The Brides of Count Spatula." As Toylit read the poem his delivery was dead-on. He yelled the lines a la Ginsberg with a look of concentrated bravado in his brown eyes.

The Crap Poetry Manifesto (Brass Tacks Press) states "We are the mighty poetic proctologists, the conquistadors of the mighty brown-out of civilization. As crap poets, our biggest job is to not be watching television. As long as we're not watching television, we're winning. Because crap poetry is the least important thing, it's the most important thing. Like the Taoists say, 'Know the big, but stick to the small.' Similarly, 'Know talent, but stick to the crap.'"

FROM A LETTER -- April 26, 2006

"Crap Poetry at Sponto Gallery"

by Mao Thing Awf

Here it is three days after Shagsbard's biffday and the multimedia Sundae at Sponto Gallery (Venice), featuring Two (at the door w/ books & DVD's), starring Log and Toylit reading Crap Poetry, Toylit's large paintings, and much intervocal permutation.

Log was barenaked, painted partially green with touches of red & blue by the time I arrived after 8 p.m.. She played the clarinet eventually, wearing her trademark bunny-ears and a black plastic strap-on dildo. She delivered poems and exhortations brandishing a plunger, the tip of the handle of which plumber's friend had had a brief acquaintance with her bunghole.

Earlier in the evening a cheez-whizz crucifix had been done on a large black panel (complete with INRI signage & nail-blobs) labeled Cheeziz; this was plungered into a smear-job by Toylit during a free-form lyric tirade on the uses of religion-art-commerce-guilt-redemption.

A length of T.P. from the printed-up rolls of Crap Poetry from "The Last Nowhere" was used to daub the crack of Log's ass while she sang & played. Audience participation was part of the generalized chaos; Log held a woman bent over by the waist and rhapsodized, plunger in hand again: the rubber cup applied every now & then to the buttocks, "saving us from all things artificial," as Log said.

Shaman-like, she had attendees sit on the floor in a circle. This was a gathering of the Church of the Kablahblah (a mystic branch of Muslim heresy) and there were shouts & murmurs of "Holy Kablahblah" while Miz Log sermonized. A shallow cup of her pee was offered (to bestow immortality) as communioned "holy water of the gay pride Jesus of joy and suffering." And an Afro-American guitarist played abstract riffs on squack-box-amplified while Toylit banged a drum & Log riffed liquid ululations on clarinet.

As the evening wound down, more paint was applied to Log's bare torso; and as she writhed on the floor strewn with large white paper, a new painting was effected: blue, yellow, red.

My "good ol' boy" pal Randy (the car salesman) (Porsche these daze) attended with me and had a blast. Needless to say, it was the "weirdness of its bareassed and unembarrassed spontaneity that most intrigued him.

As Poe says (in "The Poetic Principle"), "Poetry lies in a thirst for a wilder Beauty than Earth supplies."

AUSTRIAN NEWSPAPER -- March 26, 2006

"California Dreamin'"

by Michael Freund

Eulogy for a Utopia: "Malibu Song" by Werner Hanak and Natalie Lettner

The end of the trip has many names. Those that moved to the Western U.S. came to the edge of the Pacific, where they still found no peace, or perhaps only a false silence. Their stations were called San Francisco, the perfect melting pot; Monterey with Steinbeck's "Cannery Row"; the Lala-land of the dreamers and starlets, Los Angeles.

Or Malibu. This place lies close enough to LA that you can see is smog layer. On the other hand, it's far enough away that the beaches are clean and desirable. On the water's edge are the rows of mansions that Malibu can afford. But the rural land has been mostly a half wilderness with canyons.

In one of these, Topanga Canyon, was preserved a special California "ecosystem," an improvised colony of artists, and of aging and upcoming hippies – people who came here when the land was open, Hawaii was too far, and the local spirit was right.

Natalie Lettner and Werner Hanak learned about this idyllic community in the Canyon at the end of the '90s. When they returned to Malibu in 2002, Lettner had the idea to document their life. At the time the filmmakers only thought the project could be made into a eulogy. "Malibu Song" is exactly that: a swan song.

In the middle of the gigantic steel and asphalt kingdom of Southern California, so says one resident, there was a small bubble protected by a fairy without the restrictions of the upwardly mobile existence happening all around it. That sounds like counterculture kitsch, but it come across otherwise. Not only because the bubble bursts, but also because the film enlarges the characters' biographies.

The poet who physically lives in the Canyon, but who lives emotionally on the edge of the Milky Way and reflects upon his Pop-past with Captain Beefheart; the woman who remembers when she saw Malibu for the first time on Independence Day in 1969 and how she never left again; the painter discovered by Warhol who sold really well until he found out "how idiotic art is." And so on.

Lettner and Hanak's documentary concentrates on how these hold-outs deal with eviction notices. The filmmakers don't judge or dramatize, and they avoid social criticism, as well as the West Coast Euphoria/Pathos. The last part of the film is a sobering picture of how the protagonists live afterwards. While one can't get over the loss of her Utopia, another proudly displays his new grill in his tract home. But the first impression is strongest: these are the days to remember.

DIAGONALE (Austrian Film Festival, Graz) -- March 21-26, 2006

"Malibu Song"
2006, Digi-Beta, Color, 65 Minutes

Camera: Werner Hanak
Editor: Udo Schuetz
Sound Design: Thomas Kathriner
With: James Mathers, Norton Wisdom, Carole Winter, Herb Bermann, Larry Payne, Pablo Capra, John Overby.
Producer: eurotrashproductions
Grant provided by: City and State of Salzburg
Premiere screening: Diagonale 2006

Natalie Lettner:
Born 1965 in Salzburg. Studied Literature, Art History, and Theater. Working since 2000 at Vienna's Art History Museum.

Werner Hanak:
Born 1969 in Salzburg. Working since 1994 as Curator at Vienna's Jewish Museum.

Beginning of the 21st century: in an almost unspoiled environment near Malibu, California, a community of artists and non-professionals has been living for decades in makeshift buildings dating back to "hippie times." In 2002 the State of California bought Topanga Beach, a prime Malibu site and home of the artists, and is now forcing the inhabitants to surrender their homes and lifestyles – ironically for the creation of a new National Park. This film is their "Malibu Song" made from dissent and life utopias, which they are not prepared to relinquish.

California, beginning of the 21st century: an artists colony with hippie roots in Malibu by LA. The painter James Mathers sits in front of his Airstream trailer and sings the "Malibu Song": "A song for all the lazy poets," then say, "life was not given to us to be productive." Then he stands up and paints a picture.

The artists colony had until now successfully weathered the global neo-liberal storm: Norton Wisdom, both a performance artists and lifeguard in Malibu; Carole Winter, an incorrigible flower child; Herb Bermann, a one-time Rock poet who wrote songs for Captain Beefheart; Larry Payne, a master of 24-hour architecture; Pablo Capra, a young poet for whom his neighbors are fairytale heroes; and John "Baretta" Overby, a homeless man who wrote the "Malibu Song."

Many from the community considered it hopeless to fight a "good thing" like a National Park, and so they dispersed in all directions. Others like James Mathers are fighting for the preservation of this unique colony: "Will they ever get rid of us?"

A film about the end of a chapter of American cultural history that is on the other side of Arnold Schwartzenegger and George Bush: "Everything that's wrong with America is anti what this community is." (Natalie Lettner, Werner Hanak)

TOPANGA MESSENGER -- February 23, 2006

"The End"

Article and Photos by Pablo Capra
Group photo by Nicolas Amato

Damn! I knew I would have to write this article one day.

After five years of resisting forced relocation by State Parks, my neighborhood is finally coming to an end.

On February 14, Judge Mira at the Malibu courthouse granted State Parks's request to get a police order to forcefully relocate the last residents of Lower Topanga. Now the small group of hold-outs are scrambling to move before the police order goes into effect.

I've lived with my family in the part of Lower Topanga known as the Rodeo Grounds since I was one year old. My neighborhood supposedly got its name because cowboy actor Tom Mix liked to hold rodeos there to entertain the real cowboys from the Rindge and Adamson ranches in Malibu.

William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies purchased Lower Topanga in the teens or ‘20s and also used the property for horseback riding and throwing parties.

Other big names who stayed here include Bertolt Brecht, Johnny Weissmuller, Shirley Temple, Greta Garbo, Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Ida Lupino, Carole Lombard, and Charles Manson.

Lower Topanga has long been a gathering spot for creative types: from celebrities to eccentrics to outlaws to all-around groovy dudes. Its community has always existed on the fringes of society.

It's true that Lower Topanga was once a hideout for scary bikers and drug dealers, but those days ended in the late '80s. And later, the infamous Snake Pit was the first Lower Topanga neighborhood to be relocated by State Parks. But Lower Topanga still maintained its iconoclast image until the end, thanks in large part to Rodeo Grounds artist Toilet, his consecutive girlfriends Daisy Duck and Log, and the tribe that surrounded them.

At Toilet's place anarchy ruled, everyday was a holiday, and costumes or nudity were the norm. He and his friends embodied the spirit of the "Idlers of the Bamboo Grove" the Brass Tacks book of ten Lower Topanga poets, which Toilet also illustrated and contributed poems to. In the last years, Toilet actually managed to repopulate the Rodeo Grounds by inviting dozens of guests to stay on his property, an act of defiance which State Parks took him to court for several times.

Meanwhile, a surprising number of new neighbors appeared in other ways – mostly house sitting for residents in transition – just to soak up the stoke of the historic community before it disappeared.

One of these new neighbors, Christoph, moved into a house with an outdoor bathtub that he loved. Luckily, he wasn't bathing the day that a huge branch fell on it – one he was never able to completely clear away. He enjoyed his last night in the house by taking a long bath with candles burning all around. The next day, a bulldozer came and rolled over his house, transforming it into a flat dirt lot.

My sister had camped in Christoph's yard one night with her friends and forgotten to take our tent down. Family drama ensued when we realized that the tent had also been bulldozed.

Christoph then moved into another house in the Rodeo Grounds, but complained about the rat problem there. With each house that was bulldozed, more rats seemed to descend upon the remnants of our crumbling community.

This rat invasion became the inspiration for long-time resident Baretta's Brass Tacks book "Rat Tales." Baretta was evicted from his shack almost a year ago and ordered to stay away from the neighborhood.

But with nowhere to go and all his friends here, he chose to sleep in an abandoned van in the Rodeo Grounds anyway, using the facilities at various neighbors' houses. In December, State Parks towed the abandoned van away because it wasn't registered, so Baretta started sleeping outside in the bed of his pickup truck. We worried about him, but weren't too concerned because the nights were warm, so it seemed like a tolerable short-term solution.

But then the weather suddenly turned cold, and he woke up one night shivering and suffered a heart attack. Fortunately, he survived. He now lives in an RV and is working on another book inspired by his life in Lower Topanga.

Farengis moved to the Rodeo Grounds last summer, and for some reason, her first encounters with Baretta turned into angry shouting matches. Christoph once said, "You have to get along with Baretta to live in this neighborhood," and there was some truth to that. Really, everybody had to get along with everybody in the Rodeo Grounds. But Farengis's and Baretta's personalities just didn't mix. Luckily, things mellowed out between them… maybe because Farengis became a fan of Baretta's "Rat Tales."

One night, as Farengis was driving home, she saw a car broken down in the middle of Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The driver, a timid college student, was standing outside crying helplessly. Farengis promised to get help to push her car out of the street, then drove down to the Rodeo Grounds to get me.

When we drove back, someone had already pushed the girl's car into the Feed Bin parking lot. The girl was feeling better and said that her friends were coming to pick her up in half an hour. But Farengis said, "Why don't you come stay at my place until your friends arrive?" So, the girl got into Farengis's jeep.

As we turned off of Topanga Canyon Boulevard, the jeep bounced onto the dirt road of the Rodeo Grounds and drove into pitch blackness. We descended into the flood plain, splashed through the creek, then wound through the trees and arundo until we reached home.

When we parked, the girl, who had been strangely silent during the ride, suddenly jumped out of the jeep and backed away.

"What's wrong?" I asked? Visibly shaking, she replied, "I'm so scared right now!" I was like, "Hey, it's okay. Don't worry. Do you want to go back?"

I made a friendly gesture but she backed away again. It probably didn't help that I am 6'7" and she was barely five feet tall. Or that a bunch of trippers and freaks were playing loud music and dancing around Toilet's campfire next door, an almost nightly occurrence.

I realized, "Man, this girl thinks we've kidnapped her and taken her to some kind of Satanic compound! In a moment, she's going to mace me, or faint, or bolt away into the bushes."

So, I just threw my hands up and said, "Look, do what you want. I'm leaving," because I knew that was the fastest way to diffuse the situation.

As I left, I could hear the girl asking Farengis, "Is it really okay here? Are you sure?"

Apparently, the girl chilled out so much that Farengis got her to go to the party next door, where they had a really good time. Then Farengis aroused the girl's interest by telling her that our neighbor Christoph was single and looked like Leonardo de Caprio. So they went to his house and bothered him for a few minutes, but he fumbled. Needless to say, the girl was late to meet her friends, but arrived with a big smile.

The next day when Farengis came home, she found a whole pizza and a thank you note that the girl had left by her door.

Sam, a Topanga teen, didn't actually live in the Rodeo Grounds, but was here almost everyday, hanging out with his best friend Calvin across the street. The two never wore shirts, and when they weren’t at the beach, they were at my house, either visiting my sister or playing videogames. Because the Rodeo Grounds is unpaved, Sam and Calvin liked to pull my carpet up and practice skateboarding tricks on the concrete floor.

Rebecca, a new neighbor, had lived in Mexico for so long that she almost spoke English with an accent. She built a swing in the middle of the house she moved into, and it was the cutest little bohemian place except that, like with all the houses, you knew it was doomed. It got bulldozed a few months after she moved in, but she continued living in the neighborhood with friends.

Now Rebecca is one of the last people here. These nights, she sits alone by Toilet's campfire, wearing a colorful scarf and a man's hat tipped forward, looking like a ghost from a Mexican fairytale.

This neighborhood is full of ghosts. I still see buildings clearly in the corner of my eye that don't exist anymore – all the houses, Ginger Snips, Something's Fishy, the Topanga Ranch Market. And I avoid looking at the empty spaces that try to erase these places from my memory. Sitting in my house at night, I can already hear the shovel of a bulldozer crashing through the walls. It's a terrible sound.

Mailboxes are disappearing from the shelf at the top of my road. Once I saw five or six of them filling a nearby trashcan. A simple image, but jarringly surreal. How often do you see something like that?

Everything in the Rodeo Grounds has become rundown because no one wants to fix anything anymore. The footbridge is weathered and crooked, and boards are falling off it. The trampoline in my yard has rusted and recently fallen apart. The roof of my house has holes that I can stick my foot through. The walls of my room, on which I hung a collection of more than 30 paintings by Lower Topanga artists, are bruised and bare. (I conveniently curated a show to store my art collection, "Art from the Vanishing Lower Topanga Community," which will be up through February at Beyond Baroque in Venice).

A week ago, Toilet was in my yard when he exclaimed, "Oh my God! Look at this!" I rushed over to see a beautiful dead hummingbird hanging upside down, still clinging to a wire fence with its tiny talons. These are ominous days.

Toilet tried to move his Airstream trailer but the wheels don't roll right anymore. It lumbered forward about 50 feet then broke down. Now he has left, but his trailer is still parked in the space between our two yards. That space was once a house.

Ever since the first people started moving out of Lower Topanga, we've had to chase away scavengers. Even when they just want to save plants from people's gardens, it hurts to see them carting off pieces of our neighborhood. Recently, somebody took the sign we put up by the creek crossing that said "Rodeo Grounds Forever," now a lost dream.

I have less than a week now before the police can legally throw me out. I still don't know where I'm going. I'll never understand why the State had to bulldoze my neighborhood to make a park, and I think most Californians (including me!) wouldn’t have voted for Proposition 12 to acquire more parkland in 2000 if they new that this was how the State would do it.

At Toilet's last party, he graffitied his place with references to our neighborhood's demise. On one door, he wrote, "Not enough paper to record all the beauty that this door has opened up to."

That's so true it makes my head spin. And it's only one door out of many!

TOPANGA MESSENGER -- February 9, 2006

"Crap Poetry of the Rodeo Grounds"

By Pablo Capra
Artwork by Toilet

“Crap poetry is what happens to good poetry after you eat it,” Toilet says.

He and girlfriend Log are responsible for a new scatological chapbook called The Last Nowhere: Crap Poetry of the Rodeo Grounds (Brass Tacks Press). Their book comes just at the eve of the Lower Topanga community’s January 31 eviction date by State Parks, who purchased the property in 2001.

In 2002, ten Lower Topanga poets attempted to preserve and celebrate their community in another chapbook called Idlers of the Bamboo Grove: Poetry from Lower Topanga. Toilet (a.k.a. James Mathers) illustrated and contributed to that book. Now most of those poets have gone. As Toilet and Log watched their community thinning out and being bulldozed, they came up with the idea of writing crap poetry. Revoltingly funny, consistently obscene and wildly inappropriate, their intentionally bad poems are a bizarre sequel to “Idlers” and a satirical reflection of the State’s attitude towards their artist’s community.

“We, the last degenerated vestiges of the infamous Rodeo Grounds, have achieved a new nadir of utter poetic crapness that is truly lame. Put a copy on your toilet and read it while pinching one off for maximum enjoyment,” the introduction to their book says.

Inside, they explore the philistine perspective that poetry doesn’t matter. Such was the case in Lower Topanga where more than a century of history, community, and culture couldn’t save it from being wiped out. And yet Log and Toilet continue to write, humiliating themselves by composing poems with the least possible effort that they see no value in. “There’s nowhere left except failure. Our only regret is our failure to destroy all our talent,” Toilet says. Their anti-poetic approach to writing is explained in the following poem.

From “Play Hot and Cold with My Secondary Function”

The Plasmodium will Rip you to Shreds
You’ll take Back Everything you Said
But before you are Annihilated
Forgotten and Disgustipated
You’ll Produce an Ode”

The Last Nowhere is a reaction to thoughts about time, change, and mortality that have plagued the Lower Topanga community ever since 2001.

“Poetry is the last nowhere. It’s the last place that no one cares about. But because poetry is the least important thing, it’s the most important thing,” Log says.

The Last Nowhere: Crap Poetry of the Rodeo Grounds by Log and Toilet also includes 30 new illustrations by Toilet that complement the poems. It can be found at Lobal Orning in the Pine Tree Circle or online at

LA WEEKLY -- February 1, 2006

"The Last Rodeo"

By Dani Katz
Photo by Pablo Capra

After a five-year battle with the state parks department to stay where they are, the last dozen or so Lower Topanga holdouts faced their final eviction on January 31 by partying like there’d be no tomorrow.

I wandered down the hill to poet/artist and party host James Mather’s notorious Rodeo Grounds compound just before 8 o’clock Saturday night. The party was already jumping. An artist and Lower Topanga fixture who calls herself Crusty Soup greeted me at the gate with dilated pupils and silver fairy wings.

I wandered over to a Lower Topanga stalwart dubbed Toilet who was wearing his best thrift-store suit and charcoal around his eyes.

“Are you under the influence?” I asked, because with Toilet you never can tell.

“I dropped six hits of acid, but otherwise I’m totally sober.”

Various DJs set up camp in front of the art studio, which was kitty corner to the makeshift bar, taking turns spinning on into the morning while throngs of revelers tripped and wiggled under a hundred million tittering stars.

Lower Topanga is composed of about 1,700 acres of land that extends from the Pacific Coast Highway two miles up into Topanga Canyon. For decades, the Los Angeles Athletic Club owned the land, considered unsuitable for development because it lies in a floodplain, and leased low-cost homes to a thriving artist community. The parks department purchased the parcel in 2001 for a mere $48 million, ostensibly to return it to its natural state, and the eviction process began. Many here call the plan to restore Lower Topanga ludicrous (about 80 percent of the existing flora is scheduled to be exterminated) and insist something more nefarious, like eventual commercial development, is at work.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the air of an era’s end, the compound was packed. I’d never seen so many people at a Rodeo Grounds party (and I’ve seen some doozies). There were kids and old people and fancy people and fuckups, hippies and lawyers and trippers and artists and Creek rats and surf bums and suits and pond scum. No one lost his or her shit. Everyone was happy.

Some of us were huddling in the kitchen, giggling and gnawing on dried mango, when a dark and handsome young man wearing a yellow hooded sweat shirt and an extra-wide grin approached us. He slipped a bottle from his pocket and asked us if we wanted some acid. When questioned about the ubiquity of LSD at this party, Handsome went on to explain that because we Earthlings are in desperate need of some higher vibrational downloads, the FDA was loosening up its restrictions. I was about to challenge Handsome’s theory when a man wearing a black suit appeared, presented me with an outstretched deck of cards and proceeded to wow us with his sleight of hand.

Hours later, while taking five beneath the spiky fronds of a yucca tree, Mr. Magic again approached me.

“I just washed my hands. Can I touch your teeth?”

Frolickers were still arriving as late as 3 in the morning, reporting an endless stream of parked cars winding their way up the canyon, and not just rusted-out Volvos and dented VW vans — new cars, fancy cars, luxury cars, gleaming SUVs.

The band, four young guys called the Animatronics, set up their equipment under the arundo arch, where the ghost of James Mather’s Airstream loomed sad and sentimental. The Animatronics jammed their instrumental grooves into the chilly ocean air.

At 6 in the morning, the Animatronics were still blowing everyone away, the DJ was still spinning and the revelers were still reveling. People bundled up in twos around the fire, coming down, cuddling, trying to warm up, not wanting to leave. The woman next to me, a local with wild red hair and a satin striped djellaba, caught herself mid-laugh as she squeezed my waist and rested her head on my shoulder.

“I’m having so much fun, I almost forgot this was a wake.”


"Received and Recommended – Life As A Poet"

Pablo Capra’s “Life As A Poet” Vol. 8 sits before me as I write this. It features a picture of a gaunt-looking, vatic Robert Kelly. Inside is a poem by Kelly called “Vetch,” a passage of which goes like this:

I miss you so
when the leaves grow alternate
the berries ripen
so far from my lips

That door leads to another thing.
If you go through it
nothing bad.
Only you are not here any more.

But what was the wind called, Daddy?
We called it nothing
it was one more weather

an apple gate
an esplanade

an archaic system of exchane.

If it weren’t for the solids in the world
what would shield us from the look of the sun?
The empty gaze that makes us tremble,
our eyes the feeble answers to that scrutiny.
The house helps us. In its shade
at dawn a structure cherishes the western dew

are you a movie
that you talk that way
language swaying your hips

Interesting stuff!

Capra works in the Beyond Baroque bookstore–an ideal job for a young, aspiring author/publisher. He cast a skeptical (and rightly so) eye at your 51 year old correspondent, and an even more skeptical eye at myself and good friend poet Judith Skillman, veterans of po-biz from at least 1978. “See what you have to look forward to?” I said to Mr. Capra, who chose that moment to begin checking his stock cards. Here’s a Capra poem:

Why do I write “purses,” “tents”?
Tomato the clown screams, “Vertigo!”
in a video his old friend showed me.
Car blasts by my room like a UFO,
already in the future,
throwing out light–
a time-travelling disaster
for the people inside.

Will the pictures turn out right
in my flipbook life?
Or, will they cast long shadows
two different sizes?
How does the world wake again
innocent every morning?
I couldn’t make time stop
so I screamed!

It’s coming from Alaska
to rub it in their faces.
By the gutted gazebo,
a snake like a bracelet
suns its pretty colors
in a glamorous garden.
“Maybe Emily lost it,”
Oly thought. Then it was gone.

Some interesting language. I especially like the “It” coming from Alaska and then leaving the poem. Also liked the abrupt Oly engaged in thinking about Emily. Oh to be young again!

The youngest work in the collection is by the punk poet Ariel Pink, whose punk album “Worn Copy” is available from Paw Track Records. ‘Nuff said, as they say.

For more information about the “Life as a Poet” series–including prices and submission guide, please check out Brass Tacks Press, and tell them Ahadada sent you.

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