Cars Are Important

 

We were throwers of parties. In ballrooms and guest houses ghosted by Maurice Chevalier and Barbara Stanwyck. We were ambitious neurotics. We wore leather pants. But didn’t think we deserved them. Our martinis were doubles and dry at Musso and Frank’s. We wore wigs in daylight and still, to our surprise, we were recognized. Someone always had handcuffs. We extoled the virtues of caprese and brown chicken from Chinatown. We were throwers of the iChing. We were friends of David Byrne, Don Henley, Timothy Leary. Our birthday cakes were phallic. One night, Barbara Leary went down on the cake. It was the grandest of times in 1992.

 

At the top of Whitley Heights, high in the Hollywood Hills, we lived on one street and knew our neighbors. Our houses were on stilts, staked into mudslide slopes. We were naïve not to recognize how we lived on the precipice of our fates.

 

At night, the lighted cross on Highland Avenue oated in the coyote brush. On Hollywood Boulevard Frederick’s of Hollywood was open all night. We went to Jumbo’s Clownroom and Club Fuck and had drive-ons at the studios. We made New York look like Calcutta.

 

And then the world blew up. A black man was brutally beaten. Four white men walked. And LA exploded with a ame throwing righteous rage.

 

We stood at the top of Whitley Terrace, with that view of the LA. The kids on the hill. Staring down as the city burned from left to right. One of us had a movie deal. Another knew Bertolucci. Another one had an antique ri e. It didn’t work but it seemed relevant. On good days you could see the ocean. On this day black smoke and curling re devoured the basin grids like a wave. There was a curfew on. Police swarmed the streets. National Guard was on the way. US Army. Marine Corps. The news told us all to stay home. Do not go to burning South LA.

 

Naturally we went.
 

Day two of the riots, Harry and I climbed into his pristine white Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck. 

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The tires gleamed with Armor All. The interior was blue. Richard Prince had once called it “pretty.” He didn’t mean it nicely. But we liked the tinted windows and the high chassis. and we drove down Crenshaw south of the 10 to see what was happening to LA.

 

It was a bright and sunny day. Store fronts were burning. Station wagons rumbled with couches, mattresses, dinette sets strapped to the roofs. Like everyone was moving out. People ran through the streets with VCRs, televisions, radios, boom boxes, loaves of bread and shoes, so many shoes. There was shouting, whistling, sirens, honking, gun shots. It was bigger than any party we had ever thrown. We knew this was a true story that wasn’t ours to crash.

 

We turned the Silverado home.
 

But we had witnessed. We had seen. And that was what mattered.

 

Harry and I liked the same things. Bingo in the Inland Empire. Champagne at Spago’s. Truck stop coffee. Alaia at Regen Gallery. Flapjacks at Angel Diner. And cars.

 

Riding in the truck, you had a big screen on the world. And we wanted to see it all. We drove through the barrens of Johnson Valley on the Pear Blossom Highway when the roadside Last Supper still stood. We drove through New Mexico ghost towns in the Gila Mountains where Johnny the Fireman saw lights in the sky. We climbed the Sierra arroyos to the Ortega Ranch and Harry held the calves on branding day.

 

In desert wastelands, in mountain outposts, in urban ruins, in Hollywood ballrooms, people dream and desire.

 

We wanted to witness. We wanted to experience. We wanted to speak about what we saw.

 

In the many decades I have known Harry, I have always wanted to follow him around with a notepad to write down the ruptures of brilliance that burst from his mind. But then I don’t because they are
his brilliance, and rather than capture, I let him release those reckless poetics into air like captured butterflies. Because they deserve to be free. Because no one sees the world like Harry Goaz. 

 

Luckily his brilliance is captured here in this book.

 

Important things hide between unimportant things. A hand on a red car is all you need to know about Dishman Dam. You know it was humid. You know it was late. The kids were young and beautiful and tawny tan. They were looking for meaning in the rice elds of Texas.

 

Harry’s photography captures these fractal moments, fragments of stories, shards of life, with sharp observation of ashes of human yearning, wishing, believing, with hints of there always being more to the story.

 

His observational ironies lie between the revealing and the withholding. Between those gaps there is mystery and yearning and pathos and redemption.

 

A cloud re ected in a skyscraper. “Out of jail and still a scumbag.”

 

Rotted cardboard with shriveled tomatoes on pavement. “Your restraining order is about to expire.”

 

A vintage car with pristine brown leather interior. ”Lights, Camera, Ambien...”

 

Kimmy Roberton’s stockinged legs captured in the shadows of a production trailer, austere like a Hopper painting.

 

Images like a held breath. His photographs are evocative, suggestive, and lonely. Because we always yearn for more.

 

And cars are important.

 

In the Whitley Heights summer of ’92, I lived in the ballroom and Harry in the chauffeur’s quarters. It was one of those days we needed to get out of town.

 

Harry and I drove the Silverado down the coastal route to North County California, with its sh taco stands and surfboard waxers. I had a deadline. He had Paul Bowles to read. We stayed in the DelMar hills with a view of the ocean. But our fates were calling us back to LA. We tried to remain for a few more days, but we had listened to too much Merle Haggard on the cassette player all the way down, and even the sunshine was bumming us out.

 

There was no escaping what was to come.  We rode back up the coast in silence. Until we looked at each other. Merle sang “Are the Good Times Really Over for Good?” We knew for us both, there was love, life, and loss to come. And we knew together we would survive them.

 

Harry ejected the tape and threw Merle Haggard out the window.

Bettina Gilois
Los Angeles, California 2020 

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