What began as an idea at a beach party has now morphed into a venture that has earned two Venice Beach residents time on a popular morning television broadcast and the opportunity to sell their project in one of the nation’s most popular bookstores.
Rich Wysockey and Marty Poole had the same idea several years ago when they met for the first time at a party — to chronicle the history of the street performers of one of Southern California’s most popular destinations, Venice Beach.
The result of this collaboration produced Venice Beach: Heart & Soul, a 110-page coffee-table tome of photographs and short stories about some of the most memorable artists who have become an indelible part of the eclectic landscape that is Venice Beach.
Twelve of the most interesting characters on the Boardwalk — Ocean Front Walk — were interviewed by Poole and photographed by Wysockey over a two-year period, which featured several ups and downs for both men but ultimately came to be their most impressive work to date.
Barnes & Noble recently agreed to stock their book, which the two authors self-published, in limited local stores.
Wysockey, a New Yorker and a commercial photographer who has lived in Venice since 1996, had been looking for a way to document the histories of the Venice Beach entertainers when he met Poole at a party in 2005.
“I always felt that the creative energies that [the entertainers] bring to the boardwalk was amazing,” Poole said during a recent interview. “Venice has changed somewhat in the time that I’ve been here, and I wanted, in some way, to preserve that creativity and that artistry that so many people have experienced.”
Poole, who arrived in Venice in 1991, said that almost immediately after they met, the concept for the book was formulated relatively quickly — “within the first hour,” recalled Poole, a screenwriter.
The two men are hoping that their pictorial history of the boardwalk artists and performers will give the public a more in-depth view of how and why many of them arrived at the beachside enclave, how they have become an integral part of the artistic fabric of Venice Beach and the reasons — even if they leave to perform elsewhere — they almost always return.
“We’re looking to give the public some insight into who these performers are,” said Poole, 42, who is originally from Tennessee.
Sprinkled in with the photos of the various performers are shots taken of paintings and murals by Venice artist Emily Winters, paintings of The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison and Venice founder Abbot Kinney, along with several snapshots of everyday life at the beach.
There are colorful photos of a summer sunset, a skater Rollerblading down the Boardwalk, and a large crowd strolling past another Boardwalk icon, the Sidewalk CafÈ.
But Heart & Soul is about the men and women who entertain the millions of tourists and residents of Los Angeles and make Venice Beach an international drawing card.
The Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau’s Web site lists Venice Beach as one of its “Eight Best Beaches in Los Angeles,” and mentions many of the performers that are in Heart & Soul.
Among the artists spotlighted in the book are Harry Perry, the skating guitarist who has weaved his way among the crowds along the Boardwalk since 1974; “Mad Chad” Taylor, who perfected his juggling act at Venice Beach at the age of 18 and now performs with chainsaws; Perry Hern·ndez, another longtime performer who walks on glass during his shows; and Tony Vera, “The Fireman.”
Coming up with the idea to produce the book was relatively easy, but convincing the boardwalk performers to be part of the project was the tricky part.
“Tony Vera was really very helpful in moving this project along,” said Wysockey. Vera initially agreed, but failed to show up for the first few interviews.
“We had to literally track him down,” Poole recalled, laughing at the memory.
Eventually, “The Fireman” consented to be interviewed and photographed for the book, and in turn he helped Wysockey and Poole locate other fellow entertainers to participate in the book project as well.
In interviews with The Argonaut, many of the Venice Beach entertainers expressed excitement and pride about the book.
Perry admired the photography of the publication and views Heart & Soul as a historical perspective of Venice Beach street performers.
“That’s the value of this book,” said Perry, who has been featured in movies filmed on Venice Beach, including White Men Can’t Jump, and has released three CDs. “This will be valuable 100 years from now. [The public] will look at those pictures and they’ll get an idea of what was here then.”
Hern·ndez, whose familiar chants of “hubba hubba” can be heard during his shows, says that he signed four books for spectators one recent weekend.
“It’s a great book, a quality book,” said Hern·ndez, who came to the United States from Trinidad and performed on cruise ships before he landed at Venice Beach 24 years ago.
“I’ve even given three books to my grandkids,” added Hern·ndez, 65, “because this is history.”
The Gold Man, a native of the Ivory Coast in Africa, called the book “great.”
A former music promoter who left his childhood home when civil war ravaged his country in the 1990s, the Gold Man believes that the coffee-table book displays not only the talents of his fellow entertainers but those of Poole and Wysockey as well.
“Everybody has their own gifts, and I think that those guys are using their gifts to express the beauty of Venice, and I think that it’s great,” he said.
“Heart & Soul is quite possibly the most comprehensive high-end art book ever assimilated about the 100-year history of Venice, California,” is how the KTLA Channel 5 Web site described the book. Wysockey and Poole, along with Vera, Mad Chad and a few others were featured on the television program’s morning show on August 18th, on location at the beach.
“That was really great to see everyone having a good time,” said Wysockey.
Perry, one of the veterans of the Boardwalk, mentioned the new Los Angeles ordinance that established a lottery system to allocate performer space on Ocean Front Walk as one of the only things that he did not like about the Boardwalk.
“I don’t like all the new laws and restrictions, and I’m against permitting,” said Perry, who was initially opposed to the ordinance. “But having an organized way to dole out the spaces has cut down some of the arguments.”
No matter where they go, the Venice Beach entertainers always seem to return to where they find large crowds of appreciative, cheering audiences.
Hern·ndez says that he will stay in Venice one more year and then head back to Trinidad. But he wants his fans to know that, like so many of the artists who have used the boardwalk as their stage, he plans to return.
“I’ve decided that I will come to Venice Beach every year in July,” he stated. “I care too much about this community.”
Perry also plans to stay.
“It’s a place to perform every day where there’s a lot of people,” said Perry. “We have a built-in audience all the time.
“It’s like Staples Center every day.”
Heart & Soul’s collaborators seem to truly admire the artists they came to know during their two-year project.
“Without the performers, there would be no Venice Beach,” Poole asserted.
Wysockey said that during the project he came to learn how hard the entertainers work for their money and the pride that they take in their respective crafts.
“Working with them on this book has really allowed me to see what truly great performers they are,” said Wysockey. “I’ve grown a lot as an artist since meeting them.”
Poole also learned quite a bit from the eclectic menagerie of the Venice Beach entertainers.
“They are very special and unique human beings,” he said.
Information, www.venice beachbook.com/.