Musical Days of the Dead in LA
Patrick O’Heffernan. Host, Music FridayLive!,
Today is Halloween and I have taken down my Day of the Dead calaveras skulls and put up my Halloween jack-o-lanterns and bought more candy than I can eat in a decade, knowing that in my kid-concentrated neighborhood it will be gone tomorrow. I attended my first Halloween event last night, a Rocky Horror Picture Show Jam at the famous Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood, featuring my friend Militia Vox (whose new album The Villainess was released last week) as Magenta. Of course every other club, amphitheater, restaurant, bar, and arena was also hosting a Halloween concert of some sort last night and will do so again tonight. The spooky music will reach a crescendo this evening at The West Hollywood Halloween Carnival. The WHHC will host tens of thousands of costumed revelers on a closed-off Santa Monica Blvd., complete with bands, DJ’s, four stages and a party that stretches up to Sunset where Stryper will play at the Whiskey A Go Go.
But the other “dead” holiday is not over and I am still processing memories, photos and videos from Dia de Los Muertos, held last Saturday in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery . Dwarfing the Halloween Carnival in West Hollywood, DDLM2018 saw 35,000 – 40,000 people, 5 stages, dances, blessings, tacos, tamales, churros, elotes (roasted corn), beer, music and altars. This year the organizers added feasts for the eyes– art and photographs from the National University of Mexico. And tens of thousands more people attended the DDLM celebrations in smaller cities in LA county and in Orange county.
The DDLM season actually extends to this weekend with the Baile de Los Muertos (Dance of the Dead) celebration in LA’s huge downtown Grand Park. Music is headlined by the LA-based futuristic global bass crew Subsuelo and will include one of my favorite singer/songwriters, the queen of love songs, Irene Diaz. As with all Dia de Los Muertos celebrations, the focus will on the altars honoring those who have passed away, with orange chrysanthemums strewn on the paths to enable them to return to the land of the living and join the party.
While I enjoy both holidays, the difference between the two struck me Saturday as I was strolling the grounds of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery during DDLM2018. Here I was, literally in a graveyard, surrounded by tombstones, crypts, and dead people, being jostled by hundreds of grinning skeletons – exactly the scene that so many horror movies use to scare people with. I was not frightened, I was happy. The roads inside the 62-acre graveyard were lined with beautifully decorated altars holding photos of dead family members, dead celebrities (Johnny Ramone is buried there and his widow has erected an altar and a merch tent for him), dead pets, and dead friends. Sounds of traditional music emerged from the El Fandango stage at one end of the grounds, and modern electronic rock wafted from the gigantic Muerte y Tradición stage at the other. And even further in the distance, I could hear the sounds of the zapodeado dancers (Mexican flamenco from Veracruz) from the El Mosaico Stage. We were surrounded by dead people and having fun (and maybe they were too).
When I entered the altars and spoke to the families, they were delighted to tell me about the deceased, especially if they had been baseball fans (the Dodgers were in the World Series that night). We spoke in fluent English, my not- so- fluent Spanish, and the language of smiles, stopping only when a group of Aztec Dancers pranced by with their contingent of costumed young men and women drumming ancient rhythms. I especially remember one altar that was a beautifully constructed dining room table perfectly set with china, silver, crystal, and handmade tablecloths and napkins, around which sat the smiling, gesticulating skeletons of many generations, frozen in laughter and conversation over each other in death as in life.
The vibe at the Whiskey A Go Go was exciting, fun, and definitely a party. But the feeling was different. The costumes were either tongue-in-cheek scary, half naked sexy, or kinda gross. There was no fake blood on the floor, but this is Hollywood and some of the effects were pretty cool – and a bit too realistic. The LA Supergroup, Five Headed Cobra warmed us up, avoiding bloody punk metal clichés and just delivered solid music (with some unwelcome complaining from the stage about the band’s former label). The attitude was let’s have fun and be silly and scary and above all party. The attitude at DDLM was let’s honor our families and our fallen heroes by partying and inviting them. Same end point, different tracks to get there. Both very enjoyable.
So tonight, in honor of my happily diverse Westside neighborhood, I will have a playlist on the sound system that switches from The Monster Mash to Recuérdame. I will be greeting a lot of small unicorns, Freddie’s, Turtles, princesses, eskeletons and calaveras. Parents will be escorting their children in costumes ranging from Princess Lea to Katrina. And everyone will get M&M’s. Some things go with any music.
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