Finding Nirvana


This month Dave Grohl, front man of the Foo Fighters (and object of a few crushes around our office), is releasing a documentary he directed about Sound City Studios in Van Nuys. Tracks to some of the most popular rock albums of all time were laid down behind the recording studio’s cinder-block walls, from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours to Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes to Nirvana’s Nevermind. When Grohl, who was a drummer for Nirvana, heard that the studio was possibly shutting down last year, he bought Sound City’s legendary Neve 8028 recording console, moved it to his own studio, and filmed a love letter to the Valley landmark. In this issue he describes the studio’s significance in L.A.’s music history.

Sound City was located near the popular joint Dr. Hogly Wogly’s Tyler Texas BBQ. I bet if you told a diner there that he was a few hundred yards from where “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was recorded, he’d choke on his pulled-pork sandwich. Los Angeles is full of blah buildings like Sound City in which something unique and quite possibly immortal is going on. While I was reading Grohl’s account I was struck by how the story hits on the main themes of our cover package, “Hidden L.A.”: What is the secret history of the city, and where can you find it? Then I thought about how in every issue (during the past 12 years I’ve been at the magazine, at least), we address that question, intentionally or not.

Reading through our cover story, I expected to make discoveries about forgotten relics (an abandoned mine I’ve never visited near Wrightwood), secluded green spaces (an opulent public garden in Thousand Oaks), or covert style emporiums (a by-appointment cobbler on La Brea Avenue). But I was surprised by other facts I learned elsewhere in the magazine—some of it celebrity trivia (in L.A. Story
Melissa McCarthy talks about serving coffee to Chris Farley at Starbucks when she was a struggling comedian/barista), some of it heavy realities (in her Open City column Anne Taylor Fleming discusses how more torture victims may be living in this city than in any other place in the country). What most intrigues me about L.A. are the stories that hide all around us.

On our back page, called Time Frame, we juxtapose a vintage L.A. photograph against a current-day one of the same location. We may choose a shot of a gondolier in 1920s Venice and find out that his canal is now an asphalt intersection, or realize that the gas station on Ventura Boulevard where James Dean fueled up his Porsche hours before his fatal crash in 1955 is now a flower shop. It’s history hiding in the open. Sound City now fits that category, too, but hopefully Grohl’s movie and story will remind us that there was a building in the Valley where beautiful music was made.