Funk is all the wild geniuses I’ve been lucky enough to meet over the course of my life. I think that’s true in writing a profile of a singer, as well as a character in a TV show or movie and certainly a novel. Dr. ¤
Nina Revoyr is the author, most recently, of Lost Canyon. I’ve lived in the city for several stints — most of 1981 and ’82, most of 2006 and 2014 — and have been back and forth between Los Angeles and New York in the years in between. I think that’s why they are fun — because he doesn’t set their agenda and they will get what they want, whether he agrees to help or not. Funk — the legendary musician who everyone is looking for — is a complicated character to say the least. It can burn itself out, it can be abused and it can be broken apart. Funk knows who he was. I think the scars are still here. But as D digs into Big Danny’s past, he untangles a web of associations and secrets, some of which date back to Los Angeles’s civil unrest of 1992. I have friendships here that have endured 30 or more years. I’ve always found Los Angeles a complex place full of hidden mysteries and closed societies. Dr. I think the uprising is one of the reasons that the numbers of black Americans in this city have shrunk. ¤
NINA REVOYR: Many of your books have been set in Brooklyn, where you live. The book features several great female characters — including D’s Aunt Sheryl; Michelle Pak, the street-smart realtor who’s also D’s potential love interest; and the wonderfully named Serene Power. Or is there something particular and specific about L.A.? I know that there used to be a very vibrant black nightlife scene in Hollywood, West Hollywood, and even Century City that is just gone. But he’s lost the will to be the person. To Funk and Die in LA — like the city itself — is a mix of people and cultures. I learned tons working with the writers on The Get Down. Now each form requires internally a bunch of information, be it in music history or a three-act structure. Los Angeles’s last civil unrest — which serves as the historical underpinning of your book — happened 25 years ago. The point is to explore process and to be able to see different ways to approach storytelling. It’s filled with characters of various races who sometimes clash, and other times cross racial lines for friendship and love. He wanders the City of Angels alone, hiding his heart in plain sight. The beat of music — past, present, and yet to be made — is everywhere in this book, and in your writing. I do think Ferguson and Baltimore’s impact was magnified by the internet. How much of it is also related to things like health status, age, and race? The core of any good story is someone seeking something and the things that help or prevent them from achieving it. Do you see the racial mix of Los Angeles as emblematic of urban America? I am one who believes a good storyteller can move work in any of these areas, but it will take time to make these transitions from form to form. But the training and the physical sacrifice that comes with the glory is immense. You’ve been a music writer, you’ve written novels and nonfiction, and you’ve also worked in television and movies. Now you’re taking on gentrification in Los Angeles — particularly areas like Crenshaw and Koreatown. To be in that social space but to be removed enough to spot danger and protect clients. On Western Boulevard you see strip mall signage that’s in English, Korean, and Spanish. D must decide which leads to pursue and which to leave alone, what to share with his family and what to keep to himself, all while pursuing a missing music icon and coping with his feelings for a Korean-American realtor who has closer ties to him than he knows. Add to that the fierce gangsta rap records that came out during that period and the often brutal policies of that era’s LAPD and you have a historical epoch we, as a national culture, keep revisiting in documentaries and fiction. DECEMBER 25, 2017
NELSON GEORGE IS a creator — and chronicler — of art in many forms. You have to be open to being playful and going outside your comfort zone. To what extent is these characters’ isolation a function of the broader human condition? I don’t quite feel that isolated anymore but D allows me to access that part of myself. People who come here seeking success or just access to the dream factory. I did a documentary on the great ballerina Misty Copeland and I did a 30 for 30 [ESPN] on Magic Johnson and I see both as athletes. So I have seen L.A. George has published three crime-fiction novels featuring D Hunter, a bodyguard turned investigator. Or something else? I think D is really product of me looking at what it’s like to be at the party but not of it. J. I traveled down Western a few days after the curfew was lifted to see the destruction and debris. As the city has become more “urban” with the Metro’s growth, Uber, high-rise development, and rising housing prices a lot of those geographical barriers are disappearing. When they don’t get what they sought or just get a taste of it, this can breed an anxiousness that can turn to internal or external anger. And how does it compare to more recent events in Ferguson and Baltimore? So it’s fun to have women who are not in the story to service D or just mirrors to reflect his manliness. lives and never see where blacks, Mexicans, et cetera, lived. When you write you have to be like a child anyway. I was out here during the trial and then flew out here the morning after the [Rodney King] verdict. transform, just as I have Brooklyn, and have memories of restaurants, scenes, and relationships that have ended. That’s actually the role of a bodyguard. I think the changes to Los Angeles are more surprising since the racial segregation here was enforced by freeways that allowed whites to live full L.A. Cities are living things with long histories of evolution and change. I’ve done that a lot in my career. I think the black, Mexican, and Korean relations here are unique to Los Angeles. As guilt or self-punishment for his past? I don’t think of them as “women” characters so much as dynamic people. If you are a writer, it’s fun to test your limits. You’ve also written about — among many other things — basketball players and dancers. trial and the uprising, Los Angeles was home base to events that laid bare the racial divisions in the country. He has directed a number of documentaries, including A Ballerina’s Tale (2015), about the ballerina Misty Copeland, and Brooklyn Boheme (2011), a celebration of the vibrant black arts scene of the 1980s and 1990s in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. And, of course, navigating L.A. Not everything I learned was actually good! Over the course of a career spanning almost four decades, George has moved easily between journalism, history, novels, and filmmaking, producing over 20 books and 15 films. The more we learn about his grandfather, Big Danny, the more we learn about Big Danny’s private losses. All in all a good town to find interesting characters in. In 2007, he co-wrote and directed the HBO film Life Support, which earned Queen Latifah a Golden Globe. Are there things you can do in one form that you can’t do in others? Do you see commonalities between these various forms of expression? In addition to long stints with Billboard magazine and the Village Voice, he has published books about the music industry and African-American culture — including The Michael Jackson Story (1983), The Death of Rhythm and Blues (1988), Elevating the Game (1992), Buppies, B-Boys, Baps, & Bohos (1993), and Hip Hop America (1998). I know it’s clichéd to talk about an investigator being a loner, but D does seem to have an existential loneliness, which is complicated by his HIV-positive status. I don’t like women characters written without an inner drive. Dr. So there’s a cultural mix here, especially east of Western, that strikes me as unique and that I find very stimulating. I have definitely stumbled. To Funk and Die in LA is the fourth installment, and the first set in Los Angeles — specifically the vibrant, shifting areas of Koreatown and Crenshaw. They are there to get what they want and their scenes with D reflect their goals and not his. Koreatown, for example, was once a outlier in Los Angeles. I remember sitting by the Mondrian Hotel pool and counting the fires visible from up there. Because of the population density of NYC and the spread out geography of Los Angeles, it’s hard to compare the two cities. In a previous D Hunter novel, you tackled gentrification in Brooklyn. There is a lot of desperation in this city. There were literally hundreds of Rodney King videos made in those cities. He’s guilty about the chaos that his genius caused and doesn’t know how to make amends. But, end of the day, accepting the challenge is what enriches your life. They come up with crazy ideas, marry them with skill, and, for a period of time, can move the culture or, at least, influence others who move the culture. What they do share is a sinking black community, rising Latino and Asian populations, and investment by banks and the city government in areas that were once red lined and ignored. Do you see his dissolution as a symptom of mental illness? How is gentrification similar or different between the two cities? What are the joys or frustrations of working in these different forms? The downside is that we’ve grown sadly used to police brutality on our smart phones. I came up in a house full of forceful women and I love writing them. He was also a writer/producer on the Netflix series The Get Down. What drew you to the idea of writing about Los Angeles? He knows that spark is still inside him. I spent so much of my time being an observer I isolated myself in many social situations. traffic is good way to rattle a person’s nerves. George has also worked extensively in television and film. But genius is not its own reward. It’s these changes in the city that I really tried to capture in To Funk and Die in LA. As a human being, it’s absolutely essential. In Misty’s case, she is an athlete artist. D travels to Southern California to solve the murder of his grandfather, who was affectionately known as Big Danny. There are funk and soul parties in this town where there will be Mexicans spinning old R&B 45 singles for other Mexicans and hip-hop parties where Asian kids are old-school break dancing. Now it is one of the city’s most vibrant communities. These women all have objectives in the story, goals that conflict with D’s. But the point isn’t perfection since that’s an impossible goal. Whether you are wearing ballet slippers or Nike sneakers these people push their bodies to incredible extremes and they don’t care — the joy of movement compels them. NELSON GEORGE: I have been traveling to Los Angeles for business since 1981 and have come to accept that it is actually my second home. What do you see as the legacy of that period? I think the fallout from the uprising has something to do with it. Where does D come by his appreciation for such strong, complex women? When I was younger, I felt my status as a writer made me an outsider even when it looked like I was in, whether it was hip-hop or Hollywood or a friend’s house. The traditional black communities abut Koreatown with Pico-Union on the other side. It’s why it’s always been such a good film noir location — its length and variety challenge you as a visitor, and certainly as a writer, to look underneath the glamour to find its humanity. Between the O.