G: What drew you out here?
M: A bunch of things. One: the desire to be warm in the winter. Two: the desire to live in the strangest city in the western world. Three: to be around an odd artistic and professional environment founded on creativity regardless of the dreck that comes out of here, it’s still creative. Whereas if you go to a party in New York, you meet people who do jobs I don’t understand. They’re in arbitrage, or corporate accounting, or they are hedge fund managers. They don’t make anything. They just sort of figure out how to generate money off of other people’s efforts. You come here and you meet very successful people who make things. There is this sort of roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done attitude that exists here that you don’t find in other places. I also think that one of the defining characteristics of LA is the overwhelming rate of failure.
You know, hedge fund guys…they don’t fail. Wall Street guys? They are born, they grow up in Connecticut or grow up in Bedford and they come from privilege and they’re entitled, and they go to Penn and then Harvard Business School and then they go to work on Wall Street and then it’s all success from day one.
G: Isn’t that irritating?
M: Yeah. That sense of entitlement. You meet these captains of industry, captains of money and they are so entitled. They really feel like they’ve earned their exalted place in the world. And of course they haven’t. They just profit off of someone else’s work somewhere. Whereas, here, every director, for one success there are twenty failures. Every writer? Constant failure. Every musician. Constant failure.
G: Every architect, too.
M: There is just so much failure that people…and no one likes failure…but I feel like people here made peace with it in ways they haven’t in other cities. When I talk to friends who are actors or writers they’re never surprised when things don’t work out. And as a result they are pretty happy when things do.
The other thing is being on the Pacific Rim. I think there is something psychologically fascinating and there is something inherently young about being at the end of the day. It just feels bright and ethereal. Like, in Europe, everyone went to sleep a long time ago. The east coast is shrouded in darkness. And here it’s bright and sunny.
I read something somewhere about how European immigration to America was primarily the criminals, the insane, the interesting people, and the desperately poor. And then the continuing westward immigration was like the people who were truly driven, like the true crazy people just kept pushing further and further west. I still feel like this is the edge of a lot of stuff.
G: The first time I listened to your music, actually, I was even farther west, living in Tokyo. And that might explain why I was feeling crazy. It can be crazy to live there. I would put in my ear buds, then plugged into my portable CD player. And, in ways similar to the original Sony Walkman that came out sometime back in the seventeenth century, being able to play my music in my head space could change my experience of the city. That just makes me wonder if there is anything spatial going on that finds its way into your creative process.
M: Hmm…. In some ways architecture and music are diametrically opposed on the creative scale. Music has no form or weight, because all music is is air moving differently, whereas architecture is the heaviest art form. The moment music passes your ear drum it’s done. Architecture has a sense of permanence to it. But the way in which I think they are similar is that they both radically affect the space in which they exist. Music and architecture continue to exist even when your eyes are closed.
So another thing I find challenging and interesting about living in LA is being forced to think about architectural history and aesthetics differently. This area is a perfect example. You walk around and there are little cottages that look like they should be in the Cotswolds, French manor houses, Spanish haciendas. And traditionally these buildings bear no relation to their environment. Every architectural form in LA is arbitrary…except for the fact that they might fall down. (laughter). That arbitrary nature, I think, is a healthy approach to architecture. As you know, it’s really easy to build new buildings that don’t look that new. If you are in London and you want to put up a townhouse in between two eighteenth-century townhouses, you can do it pretty easily. But this gives the past too much power and credit.
One of the things I find interesting about the history of architecture is how form follows function comes and goes. A lot of architectural forms made a lot of sense when they were invented and then they migrate and people still hold onto the form. But if you ask people to change it up they go, “Oh no. This is tradition.” But the people who invented these forms weren’t inventing traditions. They were being practical.
G: So do you gravitate more towards one style over another or are you the type that likes to inhabit a space, like this house, that pre-dates you and you then transform?
M: I mean, honestly and in a wishy-washy way, architecturally, I’ve sort of come to love everything. I used to be such a committed modernist. Corbusier was my god. And Mies. And visiting the Bauhaus and reading Marcel Breuer. And feeling like modernism was the only rational response to the contemporary. And now I don’t know….
G: You don’t know if you’d necessarily want to live in that….
M: It would be great in some cases but I also love weird ornamentation. (laughter) Again, in this neighborhood, there is so much weird architecture and I have a weird love for a lot of it.
One thing that I find kind of challenging and interesting is, for example, a friend lives down the street, and her home, from the outside, is so unremarkable. It’s just the most banal example of late-sixties, early-seventies LA architecture. And it isn’t that well maintained. But what’s fascinating is that she does really amazing things in there and you open the door, and from the outside it’s just this little box, you open the door and it has these panoramic views of everything. You can’t judge the surface. I find my aesthetic sensibilities really challenged. Sometimes it would be nice to have a little more beauty, like when you are on the 101 or the 10 and you are driving through. A little more civic beauty that you don’t have to look so hard for. That would be nice, but it is what it is.
G: I don’t want to psychoanalyze the blog but I’m going to psychoanalyze the blog and ask where the urge to do this comes from. What brought you to that moment where you said, I’m going to put this out there?
M: My whole life has been about getting excited about things and wanting to share them with people. Like when I first discovered punk rock I wanted everyone to discover punk rock. And sometimes I’ve been a little strident and didactic in evangelizing something…. But with architecture my interest started with being in New York. And that interest was almost wholly sustained by books. So I’m reading about all this great architecture and I’m walking around New York and I don’t see any of it. (laughter) Not to malign New York at all, but New York has four buildings: tenements, townhouses, tall apartment buildings, and office buildings. (laughter) Then there is one house! A house! It’s in the Village and people take pictures of it all the time. It’s like a cute little 800 square foot house. It’s like the last remaining house and tourists and people in the neighborhood fetishize it. (laughter)
It would be impossible to have an architecture blog in New York and not tread the same ground that a few thousand architectural historians and enthusiasts have already treaded. Whereas, here, you turn the corner and you find something no one has documented before.
G: You know, having been here most of my life, I’m still exploring and turning those corners. I never even went downtown until I was an adult because there just wasn’t a need to. I grew up in what they call the South Bay and that’s like a whole different world cut off from the freeways so you just don’t need to go beyond that curtain a lot of the time.
M: It’s almost like monocultures.
G: Yeah. Many, many monocultures.
M: Like in Papua New Guinea and other places you have tiny little eco-areas that have been cut off and you have species there that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. Like they just found this new type of rat. It’s like a rodent but it’s a different type of rodent. And it’s evolved for the last couple hundred thousand years because it hasn’t had contact with the other eco-systems that a few miles away. (laughter) LA is filled with that.
G: So it’s Silverlake and Echo Park….
M: Yeah, it’s this weird provincial evolution that’s kind of fascinating.
Um…. I was going to say one more thing. I can’t remember.
G: It’s alright. So are you reading anything now?
M: I’m reading a book a friend of mine, Eva Hagberg wrote this book on the role of nature in architecture and it’s pretty interesting. I don’t know. When I read architecture books I sort of, to my shame, gloss over some of the text and just look at the pretty pictures. (laughter)
G: And there is so much theory.
M: And there are examples of the theory gone wrong. Like, I did a panel with Bernard Tschumi….
G: Did you really?
M: Yeah. It was like a couple years ago. And he likes the blobbies, you know Columbia University. And I would read their theory and it read compelling but then you look at some of the buildings being produced by theory and they were just off-putting but not in a good way. Ultimately people have to exist in the space. If I have to explain to you why a piece of music is good, that piece of music is not going to be that good. If something is so experimental and complicated…. I question the validity of the music. Perhaps some music benefits from being explained. But if some blobby has to explain his architecture through theory? I’m like, but where do you eat breakfast? (laughter) Can my dog run around? You know, having said that, a lot of theoretical architects have done some remarkable things. Tadao Ando is perhaps my favorite living architect and a lot of his work is very conceptual. But blobbies making shapes with computers? OK, so?
G: Yeah, in some ways, it’s an on-going problem leading to more problems. Thank you.
M: My pleasure. Thanks for giving me a chance to ramble on like a dilettante. Oh, before you go I just want to show you…. There’s a deck behind the house….
Moby leads me through a gate with the sign, “Stairway to the Stars” hanging above it and we trudge up some stone steps that give way to dirt. From the deck at the tippy-top of this rise I can view the expanse of my life in Los Angeles. Where I grew up, where I went to school, the places I’ve worked, and all the places I’ve never been to and most likely will never visit. There is the run of the coastline, undistorted in the distance. The brown layer of smog, trapped between sea and mountains, a permanent airship, has been cleaned momentarily by the roar of wind and rain. To get back to that distant edge I will have to sit in near-gridlock. Traffic is often a determining factor in this city. Normally, I simply wouldn’t go somewhere after 2:00 p.m., or at all on a weekday. In this case I made an exception and my reward was that little deck behind the house. That deck, just a wooden platform with two chairs, seems to me the perfect ending to this story. For Moby, it’s his point of beginning, where he can zero in on the next patch of city to explore.