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Poets Let Their Meters Run Behind Bebop Shop in Reseda

Times Staff Writer

A bald musician from Canoga Park spoke the lyrics to a song called “Spank That Baby.” A female machinist from Simi Valley talked about a woman who burst into flames. A 59-year-old businessman read poems about age, the sunset, his friends and his hands. A struggling actress told of driving at high speed in the middle of the night with no lights on.

“No pain, no gain,” said the bald musician, who wore a pair of dark glasses.

“This is new to me,” said the actress, who had never read her poetry out loud.

On the occasion of the monthly open poetry night at Bebop Records and Fine Art on Sherman Way in Reseda, it was pretty much standard fare.

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For 2 1/2 years, this tiny shop has been carving itself a niche as the San Fernando Valley’s only art gallery-record store-performance space-business. The shop, run by a former art student and a part-time radio announcer, is wedged quietly between a discount camera store and a janitorial supply outlet, across the street from a beauty school.

In Venice or Santa Monica, a place like this might not merit a second glance.

In the Valley, however, it is different. By their own account, the owners of this store are doing their best to kill a myth that the Valley is culture-starved, or at least a little malnourished.

“We are constantly getting people in here saying, ‘What are you doing in Reseda? Why aren’t you on Melrose Avenue?’ ” said Richard Bruland, a 38-year-old Silver Lake resident who runs the store along with Rene Engle, 35, of Santa Monica. “That’s pretty dumb. We like it here. Reseda has character.”

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Eclectic Selection

Bebop Records is hardly a landmark, and probably not the beginning of a trend. Inside, the clean, narrow converted swap shop boasts an eclectic selection of records and a small gallery hung with avant-garde paintings and sculptures. Outside, the windows carry a sign reading “Next Window, Please” and a cutout picture of Mr. T, who exhorts passers-by to “Shop Here, Fool.”

Along with the art and the records, items for sale include comic books depicting the “Battle for a 3-Dimensional Universe,” and official “Bebop Records and Fine Art” T-shirts.

Several nights a month, professional poets and musicians perform on a tiny stage at the back of the store, in front of audiences seated in rows of folding metal chairs.

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Aside from its role as a business, the shop also serves as a kind of hub for amateur poets in the Valley, who gather once a month to trade their thoughts with each other. For the most part, the open poetry nights are held on the third Wednesday of the month, before crowds that range from less than 10 to 25 or 30, Bruland said.

Two Hours of Poems

Last Wednesday was one of those nights. Beginning a little after 8, six Valley residents read or recited their works behind a podium at the back of the store. They included the musician, the machinist, the businessman, the actress and a young man who makes his living transcribing court records.

A woman in overalls sat listening, smoking cigarettes and wearing a hat with the words “Betty Boop” on the front.

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The event lasted roughly two hours, as the poets took turns applauding each other when they weren’t holding forth from behind the lectern.

The poems and their authors varied wildly in shape and delivery. Richie Hass, the musician, paced back and forth while he talked, while Douglas Amiel, the transcriber, seemed relatively sedate. Kathy Comenas, the machinist, looked glum and vaguely upset, while Zan Overall, the businessman, looked absolutely delighted. Helene Hodge, the struggling actress, passed rapidly from jumpiness to easy self-assurance.

The readings were mostly introspective, with titles including “Greyhound Bus Terminal at 6 a.m.,” “My Good Left Hand,” “One Day Roy” and “Alien.” One included a lavish description of what was either a woman or a cat, depending on your point of view. Another described a large group of people who did not know they were dead.

“If you gave your heart for an organ transplant, no doubt it would be rejected,” Hass declared in one of his poems. “We’re all lost, we’re all dying. But hey--at least we’re trying.”

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Afterward, all of the participants scattered, returning to what one called “our regular lives.” The machinist stayed to talk awhile about her job in Simi Valley, which consists of polishing bolts produced on an assembly line. The woman in the “Betty Boop” hat asked Bruland for a job.

“It’ll be a lot bigger next month,” Bruland said of the reading. “We’ll be doing some advertising.”

“But it’s still important,” Hass said as he was walking out the door. “It’s not so much that it fits right in. It’s more like it fills a void.”


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