This unique historic piece about the 1970s, A Place Called the Bla-Bla Café, is a tribute to the great spirit of all of the performing artists of the American 1970s who found a home in a 1600 square-foot club in California. It tells of their idealism, youth, and growth during those tumultuous times of bigotry, fear, idealism, political disenfranchisement, violence, changing definitions of sexual identity, and major social revolution. It is a collector’s item for those who were there and for those who wish that they could have been. It is also a collection of dreams, some of which came true and some of which are being lived to this day.
Sandy Ross, the author, was both a performer and a staff member at the Café. She tells her own story in Part One, compiling those of others such as Al Jarreau and Lisa Nemzo in Part Two of this intriguing record of events and personages. The third part of the book contains tables of all the players, including a table describing all the staff and a larger table containing the performers – hundreds of them. I had never known that Keith Green or William Katt had performed at the Bla-Bla, and that they were among so many that included Roseanne Cash, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, The Motels, Huey Lewis and the News, The Police, Vicki Randle and multiple dozens of others. If the casting could be accomplished, this would make a killer of a successful movie; many of us who did not know that such a place ever existed would certainly go to see the film.
Above all, during a hard life that was met by many in the American 1970s, the Bla-Bla Café offered a home and a camaraderie to performers that has lasted a lifetime. In that uncertain decade, it was an oasis of some stability from 1971 – 1982. Located on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, Los Angeles, it provided a proving ground for new material and new performers from a wide variety of artistries. Today there is a reunion website where the old regulars and staff still check in and use the Forum, so that the family can live on. There are even links to the performer’s current websites, rather like a museum online.
Sandy Ross was one of 200 or so songwriters at the Bla-Bla, performing and listening to others while writing pop songs and hits that we still enjoy. She was also in charge of much of the talent scheduling for eight years. She saw the pop sitcom actors on open-mic nights offering poetry, while studio musicians played creative numbers in rock and jazz groups to offset the banality of their commercial-ad work during daylight hours. The café was open after hours to all – straights, gays, hippies, those of indeterminate sexual orientation – anyone, any race. They all were given a chance there. Sandy has done an excellent job with this book and I have enjoyed learning about the Bla-Bla Café very much.