Simanaitis Says

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I’M IN GOOD company indeed with my “Wagner’s Norns and PCH.” Famed artist David Hockney has framed a southern California road trip with the music of Richard Wagner. Alex Ross describes this performance art in “A Road Trip With David Hockney and Richard Wagner,” The New Yorker, online January 11, 2021 (and in the print edition January 18, 2021).

Here are tidbits gleaned from Ross’s article and from my own ramblings in Hockney’s preferred portions of Southern California, complete with Wagnerian motifs.

Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica, 1990, from a series of paintings by David Hockney. Image from The New Yorker, January 18, 2021.

Hockney’s Wagner Road Trips. Ross writes, “Hockney, with his utopian explosions of primal color, might seem a curious fit for Wagner, the master of shadow and foreboding. Nonetheless, the composer has long been one of Hockney’s musical favorites.”

“The painter,” Ross notes, “has attended the Bayreuth Festival three times, and in 1987 he designed a production of Tristan und Isolde for the Los Angeles Opera.”

Ross continues, “Around the same time, he bought a beach house at the bottom of Las Flores Canyon, and in the early nineties he began plotting mountain routes that could be timed with Wagner selections. These expeditions informed his ideas about the play of light on landscape, both on canvas and in the theatre. When he experienced hearing loss, he had his Mercedes outfitted with a potent stereo system. Friends and fellow-artists were invited along for the ride.”

David Hockney, OM, CH, RA, West Riding of Yorkshire-born 1937, English painter, draftsman, printmaker, stage designer, and photographer. Image from

The Route and Motifs. Ross enjoyed Hockney’s route and Wagnerian motifs in the forty minutes before sunset. It started “at the corner of Las Flores Canyon Road and the Pacific Coast Highway, in Malibu, preparing to witness a performance of Wagner Drive, a large-scale audiovisual work by the artist David Hockney. We were the sole audience for the piece, and also its executants. My friend drove; I operated the stereo.”

Heading north on PCH, Hockney’s (and Ross’s) Wagner Drive begins with “America” from Bernstein’s West Side Story: “Automobile in America, / Chromium steel in America, / Wire-spoke wheel in America, / Very big deal in America!”

A right turn onto Malibu Canyon Road brings a twisting climb and a change in the music to Das Rheingold’s “Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla.” 

A Fond Recollection of Malibu Canyon Road. This reminds me of the Pink Lady, a giant nude that appeared one Saturday morning, October 29, 1966, above the Malibu Canyon Road tunnel.

Image from LAObserved, January 7, 2017.

The Wagner Drive takes a right onto Piuma Road with a musical segue into Parsifal’s “Prelude.” Ross writes, “The brass choir of the Dresden Amen harmonized with the mountain-and-ocean panorama of the Malibu Canyon Overlook, although the blare of brass from our car distracted a couple who were trying to have a romantic moment.”

“Nine minutes before sunset,” Ross says, “we turned left onto Las Flores Canyon Road, which would lead us back to our point of departure. The soundtrack was now Siegfried’s ‘Funeral Music,’ the memorial to the failed hero of the ‘Ring.’ ” 

Ross continues, “The first part of this descending leg took place in deep shadow, as the road briefly swerved north before heading back south. The muffled drumbeats of Siegfried’s funeral procession matched the loss of light and the onset of a nighttime chill. As Hockney intended, the orange disk of the sun reappeared over a gray-blue ocean just as the orchestra moved into the major and intoned Siegfried’s leitmotifs at high volume—a magnificent, valedictory mood.”

My Own Valedictory Mood. In R&T’s “Hybrids: Perceptions vs Reality,” March 2010, I experienced a similar mood with our trio of cars on Decker Canyon Road, not far from Hockney’s Wagner Drive. 

Image from R&T, March 2010. By the way, this was the test in which Ford “forgot” that its Fiesta onboard mpg computer was still set to Imperial gallons…. Its corrected Canyon Carving mileage, as reported in R&T, April 2010, was 28.6 mpg U.S.

I forget which CD I enjoyed during our Canyon Carving. It could well have been Wagner; or maybe Rasputina. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 

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