Thanks to Charles Phoenix and his holiday slideshow, I now know
the Hollywood Christmas Parade was cooked up in the 1950s to
draw shoppers away from the fancy department stores downtown,
back to the razzle dazzle of Hollywood Boulevard.
Some may say that proud old thoroughfare has changed a little
then. Classier boutiques moved away. Six-foot bongs, trashy
tattoos and double-breasted $39 pimp suits moved in. But I'm
proud to report the Hollywood Christmas Parade (HCP) is still
the same loveably shameless shill it always was.
First of all, I want to tell a story about another local
religious holiday tradition: the Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise
Service. This is one of the nice things
in town inherited from the Age of Mulholland in terms
of a church service it's to Hollywood what Old Faithful is
The famed Sunrise Service was founded by community leaders
in 1922 as a non-profit, L.A.-wide, ecumenical service. For
decades the tradition has held fast then last year
evil televangelists in bed with L.A. County Supervisor Mike
Antonovich tried to hijack the service for their particular
brand of money-begging, purple-haired freakshow.
And yes, that's the same Mike Antonovich who said "to
hell with Old Glory" the 400 year old oak fancy
that. Anyway, they failed. When the L.A. Times
got wind of the scheme, their Enron Easter Deregulation Scheme
created a media mini-tempest. You know: panicked phones calls,
indignant constituents on the line unaccustomed to having
local traditions dickered off to out-of-town confidence rackets
and so forth. Stung by bad publicity, the TBN/Antonovich Easter-stealers
Look, all I'm saying is, it's reassuring there's no such
duplicity involved in the annual Hollywood Christmas Parade
because its mission statement could not possibly be
any more blatant: rope in the rubes and sell out the store.
From famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard
to the no-name juice stand on Vine, to the teenage delinquent
feeding grounds of Carl's Jr. on Sunset it's something
to behold when the parade circuit activates in an echo chamber
of hard-sell hype, nominally for a holiday that's still almost
a month away.
Still, it's an unpredictable revue that's hard to resist
when you can walk to it. Where else can you feast your
senses on a rolling Hall of Lame to rival this one?
classic Cadillac or cheesy car-float, here come the replicant
news-mannequins and Ken-doll weathermen. Here's the B-team
cast-members of some Nielson-anemic TV show on an old-timey
fire-wagon! And there's Helen Reddy! All flushed through the
streets on a tide of marching bands full of starry-eyed Midwestern
high school teens (the best part, really, along with the gussied
up equestrian groups), and of course, the main course: floats
for the latest DVD release "Austin Powers in Goldmember"
on DVD this Tuesday! The entire "Back to the Future"
trilogy, finally on DVD this month! Thank you baby Jesus who
would be crucified, dead and buried and rise again after the
But just when you think you've got it figured out, there
are some reactions you can't explain. Kids, unmoved by the
sight of Corey Haim or even Elvira,
Mistress of the Dark, suddenly go berserk at the sight of
a large waving Sonic the Hedgehog in a bitchin' '32 Ford.
Judging by the shockwaves of high-pitched adoration, Sonic,
the videogame Menudo, has been dosing children with mind-control
rays for years now.
After an hour or so of this comes the parade marshal, lately
anywhere from David Hasselhoff to Peter Fonda to Mickey Rooney:
Night Rider, Easy Rider and Good God! isn't he dead
yet? Then hours later the entire affair culminates in the
final float, the Money Shot, the Reindeer-Drawn Sled, the
Big Santa Send-Off, the Fat Man in Red, Ho-Ho-Ho'ing his ass
off like a SAG-AFTRA showbiz trooper.
At least that would the sensible endpoint for the Christmas
Parade. But this is Los Angeles. Do you think the SLA shoot-out
happened here by coincidence? Yes, there's more namely the
SWAT Team. Swear to God on the Bible. That year it was right
after 9/11, so after Santa passes by, this whole dragoon of
riot police on horseback come through, fully ready for riot
combat (are the World Trade Rioters coming for Santa? No one
knows); then comes the mini-fleet of white Suburbans with
SWAT guys in black commando gear riding the running boards
with their kill-sticks at the ready. Nice solid police state
But then, when you look at their faces, these guys are cool.
They look like they're enjoying the parade. Happy to have
them on my side. I think.
Finally as the shock troops recede, the people sweepers roll
through, street sweepers, huge yellow affairs with flashing
safety lights, pushing the tides of humanity away from the
event, back towards their nearby bungalows or hour-long ordeals
accessing the 101. At this moment the blurring of lines between
ancient tradition and urban hyperspace feels complete. Denied
the pageantry of ancient Egypt or imperial Rome
by an accident of birth, instead I can bring you only reports
of a Blade Runner Christmas at Hollywood & Vine. Substitute
Spanish for Japanese and you're there.
You see, it's really a love affair between me and the HCP.
In the beginning, 1996, it was love at first sight. Except
that things changed. It's gotten complicated, the ups and
downs of watching a three mile long commercial climaxing in
a duet by Santa and the SWAT Team I'm disgusted/I'm
fascinated it should have been over long ago. But it
dragged on because of a certain morbid convenience factor.
In any case, the 2002 Hollywood Christmas Parade was to be
noted for its continuity with the
fashionable storm-trooping show of force from 2001. But this
time, the parade started with the fireworks: namely awful
overtones of riots and shoot-outs courtesy of huge sonic fireworks
with booms about a hundred times louder than an M-80.
Mind you, they are an hour late in starting already, we later
learn, thanks to a bomb scare at Hollywood and Highland. In
the midst of the waiting around, the street lights fizzle
and the whole block goes dark.
Blackout. Not part of the script.
Now more waiting around, people blowing those stupid plastic
horns. Then I have to try to shake this weird guy who keeps
asking me if I think he's retarded over and over again. He's
like shoving this Casio little cheap digital dictionary thing
at me, which has the word "retarded" punched in.
"What does this mean? What does this mean?" He completely
homed in on me in this crowd of ten thousand. While that's
going on, motorcycle cops spins their lights and start revving
around like crazy and that's when the sonic booms start going
and the sirens wailing, people confused, kids crying. Not
exactly the "O Holy Night" scenario I grew up with
in Michigan, but hey! this is California here.
We're having a parade? I know, let's start it with a simulated
state of emergency almost as if the parade were under
terror attack at that very moment.
But what can you expect as an American anymore? There's no
narrative to the ritual anymore, just a tone-deaf attempt
at spectacle that inadvertently echoes some kind of horrible
Pretty soon that fireworks factory-exploding nonsense plays
itself out and the parade gets going, but after a crowded
hour waiting in this time of Terror War Tension, somehow looking
at crappy anchormen and DVD commercials on wheels and marching
bands from North of Sacramento doesn't do a damn thing for
Especially now that the parade planners finally got the message
the Frolic Room on the parade route to keep those cagey drunks
from making their hilarious comments at jet engine volume
levels only yards from their celebrity targets.
Yes, it's official. The Christmas Parade love affair is over.
But now that it's over for good, let's have a look at the
place it started, retrieved from the Five-O Case Files and
dated December 1st, 1996: The original Hollywood Christmas
And yeah, it's true next year I'll probably be back.