The Naked City May 26 2024
ROADSIDE KILL
The L.A. dead get a voiceover.


This photo which was made by an LAPD crime scene photographer today in 1953 seems to show a murder victim, but the subject actually committed suicide. We guess that's self-murder, but whatever, it's an amazingly chaotic result. While it's from the LAPD archvies, it was included in James Ellroy's 2015 photo retrospective LAPD '53. We have a copy and it's worth a look for fans of the macabre. There isn't much information on the photos—mostly they say merely “dead body” or “crime scene.” Ellroy instead discusses his own literary output, opines about film noir, shares anecdotes and musings about various Hollywood figures, recounts episodes from his youth, and occasionally lets himself be pulled down dark time warps he describes as “magical memory.” A typical example is his imaginary story of being at L.A.'s Club Alabam.

Charlie “Yardbird” Parker is bleating, blatting, honking and hiccuping “A Night in Tunisia.” Reefer smoke hangs humid. The music is decadently discordant. It’s the sock-it-to-me sonics of interminable chord changes off a recognizable main theme. It’s music for cultured cognoscenti that Bill Parker [LAPD Chief at the time] cannot acknowledge.

It takes brains and patience to groove the gist of this shit. It’s the musical equivalent of the chaos Bill Parker deplores. Five-year-old Ellroy is there, watching the Bird take flight. Everybody’s chain-smoking unfiltered Camels. The place is one big corroded iron lung. I’ve got a spike in my arm, I’m orbiting on Big “H,” I knew I’d write the text for this book one day, so I’ve got my voyeur’s cap on
.

Interesting, no? Ellroy's writing these days resides permanently on a razor's edge, as he ties together crime, politics, and alpha male ultraviolence. He seem to us the perfect transgressive guide for LAPD '53's tour through disaster and death for two reasons. First, he isn't just an observer—he was a one-man terror show in his own right, engaging in petty crime through his youth, joining the American Nazi Party in high school, and generally leaving chaos in his wake. He waves this period away as a cry for attention. His fame and teflon persona have facilitated this dismissal, and that's the second reason he's a good choice for the book: other people pay dearly for indiscretions far less severe, like the universe has played a terrible joke on them. Ellroy's fiction has always explored such cosmic inexplicability. He makes LAPD '53 an experience.
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 24
1915—Ship Capsizes on Lake Michigan
During an outing arranged by Western Electric Co. for its employees and their families, the passenger ship Eastland capsizes in Lake Michigan due to unequal weight distribution. 844 people die, including all the members of 22 different families.
1980—Peter Sellers Dies
British movie star Peter Sellers, whose roles in Dr. Strangelove, Being There and the Pink Panther films established him as the greatest comedic actor of his generation, dies of a heart attack at age fifty-four.
July 23
1984—Miss America Resigns
Vanessa Williams, who had been crowned Miss America and was the first African American woman to win the prize, resigns her title after Penthouse magazine purchases and slates for publication a series of lesbian-themed nudes Williams had posed for when she was younger. After resigning she files a $500 million lawsuit against Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione but later drops the suit.
July 22
1992—Cocaine Baron Escapes Prison
Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, imprisoned leader of the Medellin drug cartel, escapes from a posh Colombian jail known as La Catedral after he learns authorities intend to move him to a real prison. His taste of freedom doesn't last—he's killed in a shootout a year-and-a-half later.
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