Thursday, November 13, 2014

P.F. Sloan

P.F. Sloan at Fromin's Delicatessen & Restaurant


P.F. Sloan 

At Fromin's Delicatessen & Restaurant
1832 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica (310) 829-5443


P.F. Sloan’s musical path can be traced to one specific point of origin: the day his father took him to Wallichs Music City, the famous record store formerly located at Sunset and Vine in Hollywood, to buy a guitar.

“When I was 12, I met Elvis Presley there, and he gave me a guitar lesson,” the L.A. singer-songwriter remembers. “He took an interest in me right away, gave me a guitar lesson and within six months I was on an R&B label making records at 12 and a half.”

P.F., who has penned such hit singles as “Secret Agent Man” and “Eve of Destruction,” has a life story that is indeed far from ordinary, and he takes some time to share some of his experiences and talk about his first new album in nearly a decade, My Beethoven, with me at one of his neighborhood haunts, Fromin’s Delicatessen & Restaurant. Fromin’s has been serving deli favorites like Corned Beef and Cabbage and Reuben, Pastrami and Brisket sandwiches to Angelenos since the 1970s. P.F., however, has called Los Angeles home since the late 1950s when his family migrated from New York.

“My father was a pharmacist but couldn’t get his license here right away, so he opened up a sundries store in Downtown on Flower and Wilshire. It took a toll on him because he was a professional man, but he had to support his family, so it put a little distance between us,” he admits. 

Although no one in his family was musically inclined, P.F. would pluck out songs at home on a small ukulele that only had one string on it and sing along to music he heard on the radio. That is, until the day he got a guitar and made the acquaintance of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. The R&B label he refers to was Aladdin Records, and by age 16 P.F. joined the songwriting staff and became head of A&R for Screen Gems music publishing.

“[At Aladdin,] they asked if I could write songs. I said, ‘yes,’ came up with four songs that week and went in and recorded them. That was the beginning. Music is divine when it’s done right. It changes people’s lives, as well as your own. First and foremost, it changes you inside. It’s a great life to have except it’s like this [motions up and down], and most people want a life like that [even, flat]. That’s why they find musicians interesting. I found musicians interesting because they all had a great sense of humor, and I really wanted to have that. You’re hanging around musicians who are so open, honest and so funny – it just seems like a great life. I was working with a professional bunch of musicians as a kid, and I got to learn a lot of things, which was great.”

Some of the personalities P.F. met at the time were Steve Barri, who became his songwriting partner, and Screen Gems executive Lou Adler, who hired the duo as backup singers/musicians for a band he managed, Jan and Dean. P.F. and Barri wrote on Jan and Dean’s next albums, composed the theme song for the T.A.M.I. Show and other tracks such as Round Robin’s “Kick That Little Foot Sally Ann.”

“It was all fun. The only pressure I felt was to keep myself from having to become a pharmacist,” confesses P.F. “As soon as they started paying me $10, $15 a week I knew that that was enough money to keep me from going to school.”

P.F. continued working with Adler at Dunhill Records where he wrote hits like “Eve of Destruction,” “Secret Agent Man,” the Turtles’ “You Baby” and “Let Me Be” and Herman’s Hermits’ “Hold On!” and “A Must to Avoid.” He also created and played the guitar intro for the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’.”

“You can’t imagine what it was like in those days, we had 60 new records coming out every week – a new Supremes, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan. This was week after week, with each getting better and better for two or three years. A catchy two-and-a-half minute song hit all these buttons of emotion within us, and their message was new. There were feel-good songs, but then there were message songs about the state of the world, how a wise person should be dealing with life,” recalls P.F. “First we had Elvis Presley to teach us how to kiss, be kissed and what a man expects from love and life. Then along come these teachers/philosophers like Lennon, Jagger, Dylan. This was a way different idea of what music is supposed to be versus Benny Goodman. It was actually teaching, waking up the consciousness of people that were fast asleep.”

This awakening definitely captured P.F.’s interest and influenced the songs he was writing. But it soon became the reason he would part ways with the music industry for several decades.

“That awakening was something the music business, my label, nobody wanted. They refused to publish anything that I wrote along those lines, and that’s fine. I don’t think any one thing is better than another. A pop song is equal to any folk song per se, but there are outstanding songs such as ‘We Shall Overcome’ and ‘Amazing Grace’ that are going to live forever,” he explains. “When you’re growing up in music, you don’t think that it’s something you can shoot for, but there is an awakening that became the beginning of all my problems.”

At this point in our conversation at Fromin’s the waitress comes by for our order, and P.F. says he normally gets a bowl of soup and half of a sandwich. I mention that whenever I visit a deli I have to order matzo ball soup, so we both order a bowl. Fromin’s version stands out from others because of its big chunks of chicken, a dough ball the size of a baseball and noodles. 

P.F. informs me that his mom was an extraordinary cook, and he also enjoys cooking. His specialty is his mom’s recipe for tomato sauce that “even Frank Sinatra wanted to buy.”

He currently lives on the West Side, but has lived all over Los Angeles. His family had originally moved to West Hollywood and settled in Mid-City West, and he admits that he has never felt comfortably at home anywhere other than his parents’ house. Yet, he has found one refuge in this world, although it’s literally across the globe.

“India is the place for me. I was blessed to first go in 1986 [to meet his guru], and it transformed my life completely. India is an enchanted place, like no place else on Earth. One can find enlightenment there; the energy is so full of love and charged with positive things,” he describes. “I go there often, and I can get snippets of being there in meditation to keep myself moving and going.”  

It was at the urging of his guru that P.F. returned to music in the early 1990s, and this reemergence also had a lot to do with seeing Beethoven’s music performed for the first time at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

“It was like I was hearing music for the first time; it was that beautiful, a religious conversion. Beethoven, to me, is like trying to describe chocolate ice cream to someone who has never tasted it. It’s that good. I was never open to Beethoven before. I was given the talk that Beethoven and Shakespeare were for the nerds, and I was into rock ’n’ roll,” he offers. “But after I had done it all seen it all, I was completely burned out on music. There was no new revelation in pop music, it was just the same hormones, loneliness, angst. Whatever kind of enlightenment they were giving was for a whole new generation of teenagers who hadn’t experienced life yet to know what’s real and what’s not real. So the worst thing in my life happened, I didn’t have music anymore.”

Experiencing the live performance of Beethoven’s pieces renewed P.F.’s passion for music and piqued his curiosity about the composer’s own life.

“All I knew about Beethoven was that he was deaf and grouchy, so I read everything that I could get my hands on about him for the next six years,” he says. “This was before the internet, so I went to every library to find out why he wanted to commit suicide (because I was feeling suicidal) and why didn’t he commit suicide. I just needed to know the answer.”

As he delved further into Beethoven’s history, P.F. discovered that they had much more in common than their shared deep depression. 

“He’s so misunderstood, and I feel misunderstood as well. Who doesn’t? But when you have the world’s greatest talent and he’s still not understood … As a matter of fact, most things that people know of him are lies written by a guy [Anton Schindler] who was basically using him. I found the real Beethoven in a book, Canto [Memories of Beethoven: From the House of the Black-Robed Spaniards], written by the son of Beethoven’s childhood friend,” he begins. “I also found books of his letters and his journals, and there was a lot I had in common with him so I thought we could be friends. He was considered a Mozart wannabe until the day he died, and I was always considered a Bob Dylan wannabe. I was abused as a child, and he was beaten as a child. He played guitar and wrote 400 folk songs. He carried a guitar with him everywhere, taking poems from Robert Burns and writing music to them.”

Their commonalities began to inspire P.F. to create compositions of his own, but there was one hurdle he had yet to overcome.

“I didn’t know how to play piano, so I began listening to Beethoven’s work played by Glenn Gould, who said that it was his life goal to play every note exactly as Beethoven played it, so when I was listening to Gould, I was listening to Beethoven, hearing a song exactly as he would have played it,” he tells. “I slowly began to learn how to play piano. I worked on one song, ‘Beethoven’s Delight,’ in 1994, but it was horrible, so I spent the next 20 years trying to reach the place where beauty exists in all of us.” 

After years spent researching Beethoven’s life, studying piano, composition and orchestral arrangement, P.F. enlisted musicians from the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra, and My Beethoven began to come together.

“Learning to play the piano took me seven years, and I started getting money to get Pro Tools together to work on one song for eight years. Another thing I found attractive about Beethoven was that he erased everything, he struggled over every note for weeks. The fact that I love to rewrite made me feel like I had a partner, that it was OK to rewrite because that’s where the polish comes from,” he says. “B.B. King once told me, ‘Ninety percent of everything that you write is going to be crap, but most people fall in love with their own crap and can’t tell the difference anymore.’ It’s rare that you can throw away what you think is your best, start from scratch and find another level that’s never been touched by filters. It’s a fantastic process.” 

My Beethoven was finally released in May, and also resulted in a pop opera P.F. created with playwright Steve Feinberg.

“By the time I finished nine songs, Steve Feinberg found me. I took him to my studio, played him the music and he said, ‘This is a play as well!’ We spent the next two years writing a play. I called it ‘Louie Louie.’ The French called him ‘Louis’ [pronounced ‘Louie’], and he loved it, so his close friends would call him Louie,” he says. “Beethoven really has become a dear friend. He transformed my life, filled it with beauty, love and music. I can’t imagine a day without him.”

My Beethoven is currently available. For more information, visit sloanpf.wix.com/-pf-sloan-memoirs.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Megan Darwin

Ayurvedic practitioner and massage therapist Megan Darwin (Scout Hebinck, scouteephoto.com)

MEGAN DARWIN 

At Kreation Kafe/Juicery 1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice (310) 314-7778


For the past few years, juice diets like the Master Cleanse have been all the rage, but they often make you feel so lightheaded, dizzy and famished that you want to give up after the first day. With that in mind, Ayurvedic practitioner and massage therapist, Megan Darwin, has developed her own program called the Juicy Yogi Detox that incorporates traditional principles with modern juicing to give Angelenos the ultimate cleansing experience.

I met up with the L.A. native to talk about growing up in Arcadia, her discovery and training in Ayurveda and the Juicy Yogi Detox at Kreation Kafe/Juicery in Venice Beach. This is where she regularly stops for a bottle of juice on her way to treating clients at Spa Sophia, which is also located on Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

Megan Darwin at Kreation Kafe/Juicery
As we take a seat in Kreation’s busy yet comfortable patio, surrounded by wood paneling and live succulents covering sections of the wall, the long list of juice options can be a bit intimidating. They offer several cold pressed juices, like the Green (apple, cucumber, romaine, kale and pear), Trinity Twist (lemon, apple, carrot and beet) and Rosy Aura (rose water and cantaloupe). Megan shares that her favorite of their Premium Detox blends is the Synchronize with dandelion, kale, cilantro, pear, pineapple, jalapeño, fennel, basil, turmeric, mint, cucumber, parsley, celery, spinach, romaine, lemon and Himalayan salt. She is also a fan of the refreshing Limonana (alkaline water, lemon, mint and raw cane sugar) lemonade.

This Abbott Kinney Kreation location also serves a full menu that includes kabobs and wraps, as well as cold and hot tapas. After ordering a Quinoa Chopped Salad and some Synchronize juice, Megan explains that the imbalance people experienced while doing a strictly juice cleanse is one of the factors that inspired her to design the Juicy Yogi Detox, which is also based on techniques she acquired in her five years of studying Ayurveda’s traditional cleansing process of Pancha Karma.

“Ayurveda is an elemental healing paradigm. Everything in the universe is made up of ether, air, fire, water or earth. Your body contains a different ratio of those qualities depending on what you take in, so if you’re only drinking juice it’s easy to get lightheaded or dizzy because you don’t have anything grounding you. In traditional Pancha Karma, you only eat kitchari, which is very nourishing but lacks the fresh, live enzymes you get from juice,” she begins. “Every day in my five-day program, the Juicy Yogi Detox, you get a detoxifying massage with warm herbal therapeutic oils, Shirodhara therapy to clear the mind, Chi Machine therapy, an herbal steam and I provide you with herbs to take every night eating, juices and a mono diet of kitchari – an ayurvedic superfood made with yellow mung beans, basmati rice, vegetables (usually carrots and celery), spices and ghee (clarified butter).”

In Megan’s cleansing detox that supplants traditional practices with modern juicing, your body receives all the nutrients, energy and elemental balance it needs so you’re able to go to work and take your dog for a leisurely walk without feeling completely spent. She encourages minimal physical exercise and the lowest stress-filled environment as possible, because “any energy you’re expending is energy that can’t be used to healed whatever needs to be healed within your body.”

While her life currently revolves around total health and wellness, Megan didn’t always maintain the healthiest of eating habits as a child in the suburb of Arcadia, Calif.

“When I was growing up, I would eat at least one pack of Hostess chocolate donuts every day. Cereal bowls weren’t big enough for me, so I would eat my Lucky Charms out of a big tupperware. When I was sick, it was Rite Aid and Walgreens for Tylenol, Advil and NyQuil,” she remembers. “I went to UCLA and studied political science. After graduating, I took a year off and had a roommate whose mom was very into yoga and natural healing. When we would get sick she would say, ‘Drink this tea with this herb.’ The world of natural healing opened up to me, and I was amazed by it. ‘A tea is going to help me? That’s so cool.’”

Megan began researching different paradigms of natural healing but was a bit overwhelmed by all of the different philosophies: Chinese healing, homeopathy, naturopathy, etc. That is, until she was introduced to Ayurveda.

“I happened upon a book that I got from a friend written by Christy Turlington called Living Yoga with a whole chapter on the basic, fundamental principles of what Ayurveda is, and it totally clicked. It made so much sense to me that I had an emotional response to it; I started to cry,” she recalls. “When that happens you pay attention, so I researched colleges and found the California College of Ayurveda.”

While taking a Pancha Karma training workshop, Megan’s abilities caught the attention of the college’s founder, and she was offered an apprenticeship at a private Ayurvedic retreat center.

(Scout Hebinck, scouteephoto.com)
“I was supposed to intern at the Blue Sage Sanctuary for a year but ended up staying five years,” she exclaims. “From L.A. to studying Ayurveda in San Francisco, there I was on 20 acres of land in Nevada City, it was so grounding. I really needed that time to settle in, learn and get really good with my skills. It was so cool to watch people go through the detox process there away from distractions, because with it comes an emotional detox very often.”

Megan thoroughly enjoyed her time at the center and even returns there each fall to lead people through detoxification, but she always knew she would return to Los Angeles to open her own practice. 

“I love Santa Monica, there’s nowhere else in L.A. that I would like to live. I like the vibe, the culture, and that the beach is so close. San Francisco is a beautiful city, but the weather killed me – having grown up being so blessed with great weather, then having gray cold summers and wearing a sweater in June,” she says. “I love that it’s so health conscious in L.A., it’s fairly clean. I love driving up to Malibu and looking at the blue of the sky. I need sunshine!”

Aside from Kreation, you can often find her grabbing a bite at Golden Mean or taking in a concert at the Santa Monica Pier during the summer since she is an avid music lover. 

In addition to the Juicy Yogi Detox Program, Megan also offers any of her Ayurvedic therapies (herbal massage or steam, Nasya sinus therapy and Shirodhara) as separate or coupled services.

“It’s so cool to see the reactions from people who have never Shirodhara before. Hot oil is poured over your third eye/chakra and flows down your head and over your scalp, inducing a meditative state or you can just fall asleep if you need it,” she explains. “It’s the perfect therapy for stress, anxiety or insomnia.”

Just hearing her describe the relaxing therapy has me ready to make an appointment ASAP. Megan is also planning to host discussions to educate Angelenos about the different ailments that Ayurveda can treat, from cancer and insomnia to sinus and allergy problems, so make sure to check in at her website for updates.

For more information, call (310) 780-5006 or visit integrative-ayurveda.com.