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A Place Called the Bla-Bla Café
ISBN: 0977722708
By: Sandy Ross

Review by: Elizabeth Whitmore


In 1971 Sandy Ross was 20 years old and a New York transplant in Hollywood, having come west to work as a staff songwriter. Southern California was full of poets, performers, rebels, and artists. Many of them congregated in a cozy club on Ventura Boulevard called the Bla-Bla Café. For a decade Ross booked and performed at the Bla-Bla Café, where she witnessed the early careers of superstars like Jay Leno, David Letterman, Robin Williams, Al Jarreau, Steve Martin, and Sting.

A Place Called the Bla-Bla Café is a reminiscent glimpse into the entertainment scene of the 1970s and the role that a small, bohemian vaudeville played in the era. The Bla-Bla Café was part comedy club, part restaurant, part coffeehouse, and part music hall. It was a one-building culture that was both a local hangout and a foundational part of countless entertainment careers.

Ross’s book is layered with a variety of artifacts from the Bla-Bla Café. She includes photographs and artwork from the Bla-Bla, charts of performers and staff, and fifteen chapters that are written by guest authors. Overall, this makes for a slim, specific history. This book is not a polished presentation of nostalgia that is formulated to conjure all the clichéd symbols of an era. Rather, it is a raw memoir of a special community that fully embraced the time and place from which it organically grew.

Today, celebrities and performers are rarely associated with homegrown, family-style venues like the Bla-Bla Café. Every city still has its favorite clubs and bars, but L.A. is more and more a corporate industry rather than an independent one. For those who are interested in Hollywood history or for performers who are just beginning their careers, A Place Called the Bla-Bla Café gives readers an intimate portrait of a community in the entertainment capital of the world.

I missed out on the 1970s by a decade, but reading Ross’s memories brought my mother’s generation to mind, and I could see the resemblance of the gentle artists at the Bla-Bla Café to my mom, who is far from an entertainer, but still embodies the fashions, interests, and attitudes of the individuals described in Ross’s book. This connection to memories and the ardor of the 1970s is the crux of A Place Called the Bla-Bla Café.

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