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      Most people know me from when I owned and ran the iguana cafe. Not so much for being a guitar player, songwriter, or anything else.  And that's fine.  The majority of my friends today are people I met there, 25-30 years ago.  

     The iguana was located in North Hollywood, CA, on Camarillo St. where it collided with Vineland and Lankershim.  Just a a tiny storefront, lined with books and weird artwork. Selling self-released tapes and CDs, poetry chapbooks, jewelry and guitar strings.  It had a small stage, Gidget the cat, and surprisingly great sound (remember, it was lined with books). It was too hot in summer, too damp in winter, either too dark, or too bright. If more than 35 people showed up for a performance, it was standing room only. But something special happened there for a moment in time.

     You see, there was an open mic on sunday nights. It attracted songwriters and poets from all over LA. Over time, it became the soul of the place, and the majority of the acts who performed, because there were shows 5 nights a week, had first come for the open mic night.  And then they came over and over again.    What I am trying to say is this: the iguana became a great venue because of the great, beautiful, and talented people who found it, and then made it their home away from home.  They made themselves into a family too, dysfunctional sometimes, but a family anyway, supported each other as artists and siblings, and referred to themselves as iguanoids, and christened the place -  "The People's Democratic Republic of Iguanaland."   

    Now, I have to say this, not because I'm being humble, and not that I'm not proud of the iguana because I am, but because this is something I knew from day one.  The iguana was not the quirky and cool little place that it was because of any great planning or decisions of the owner.  Probably in spite of them.  I just took the ride along with everyone else.  Happy I did, by the way.

You can find a lot of people from the iguana days, musicians and poets still doing their art, and lots of audience still following them here on this facebook page:

Iguana Cafe Expatriates  on Facebook


***

I couldn't find a photo of the iguana, so I did this from memory.


Below is a poem written by Ellyn Maybe a couple months after the iguana closed.  If you don't know, Ellyn was an iguana favorite, and if there was ever a decision about it, she would have been the Poet Laureate of the People's Republic.  Even though this piece is 25 years old, I only heard her read it this past Sunday, 8/30/20.  So, where the hell have I been anyway?  Who knows?  Doesn't matter. Take a moment and check out my good friend Ellyn.

                                                        

 

In Gratitude

By Ellyn Maybe 


     A recognizable change in Fahrenheit occurs, breath changes direction, eyes water when something benevolent is lost. The Iguana Cafe, where the ozone layer was intact, where misunderstood species went to survive America’s shiver and dance joy in polka dotted ink and clef notes. Where the last kid picked for field hockey in gym class in Wisconsin could meet all the other kids picked on for being too this or not enough that.
     The Iguana, with its self-esteem sandwiches and tie-dyed root beer, was a catalyst of pinch yourself, “Does this… could this place really exist” revelry.
     It takes courage to take a dream and turn that dream loose on the streets of these peculiar United States.
In a generic world people get numb, not even able to imagine such a place is possible.
     The Iguana was medicine in a society where punishment is often given to those who scratch their nails down the back of expectations like a chalkboard they were never meant to live upon.
     Where the neon signs of mediocrity blink 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Where junior high never goes into hibernation; the yearbook becomes the newspaper, radio, and TV. Where there are 1000 theaters showing the clone of last years smash, starring someone who is making more money in one hour than all the poets and singer/songwriters will most likely see in their whole lifetime.
     The Ianniellos split the door with the performers, and by having vision, they split the window with us too.
This place was historical, celestial, ancient and topical.
     I wish an abundance of thanks to the Ianniellos for dreaming aloud in this opera and hootenanny, where pens were way beyond mightier than the sword.
     It takes commitment to shelf space for chapbooks and independent tapes, rather than whooshing espresso machines. It takes tolerance for neurotic, left-handed surreal poets and every other combination thereof over designer everything. It takes love.
     In just under 6 years the Iguana Cafe, the People’s Democratic Republic of Iguanaland, gave out an infinite number of keys to its magic country.
     It’s now up to us to keep our hearts unlocked. 

(9/95)


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