As a writer—particularly and especially as a writer within the Los Angeles landscape—it’s hard to muster some random grouping of words that remotely become even a semblance of the poetry that was the culmination of Jonathan Gold’s writing.
In fact, I would be hard-pressed to believe that a writer doesn’t have to contend with Gold’s work in one way or another if they want to write about any form of culture or life within this vast stretch of weirdness we call home—because it was Gold who allowed us to relish that weirdness and to understand the patchy, pocket-y, complicated, immigrant-centric cultural quilt that is SoCal.
Gold died Saturday of pancreatic cancer. He was 57.
Gold’s life wasn’t remarkable solely because he wrote about food. He was a punk cellist, using his music degree from UCLA to create, well, punk music. With a cello.
He was a performance artist who, finding himself naked on stage, found a way to find himself naked in a world of clashing cultures; a man who, amidst the chaos of this place we call Tinseltown, eagerly dismissed the glitz and refinery in favor of a luu suk—a Thai soup made from pig’s blood—or chicken neck tacos or, hell, even mozzarella sticks. All these dishes were hailed, at least once, as his favorite dishes of the year in his yearly roundups.
But again, it was more than the food.
When Gold spoke to a far too limited crowd of Long Beach locals back in 2013, he was more than just the first food writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism—an honor that included his famed porno burrito write-up on the sadly-shuttered El Atacor No. 11—he was also deeply embedded in Long Beach culture.
He had sincerely authentic opinions about Snoop and Warren G—a given since his 1989 profile on N.W.A. became the gold standard of music profile (and birthed the term “gangsta rap”). Even deeper was his love of Nate Dogg, the Long Beach rapper who passed at age 41 and just two years before this event.
“I wasn’t prepared for the impact of his death—even more than Tupac,” he wrote in his obituary for Nate. “[He was] a rap enthusiast’s equivalent of a jazzbo’s listing Kid Ory solos on Louis Armstrong sides—but his crooning was as vital to the early ’90s as Biggie’s lisp or Cobain’s howl, a sound affixed to America’s pop consciousness like a natty prison tattoo.”
Did you see what he did there? Like Nate Dogg’s jazz-like ability to turn the vulgar into the relatable over the course of a G-funk structure, Gold creates jazz with his words, dropping one of the South’s most respected trombonists while noting East Coast rap and Seattle grunge in a single line to honor a lost Long Beach legend.
He had a true love affair with Bixby Knolls’ Bake-n-Broil, and he even admitted, albeit cautiously, that he had largely eschewed Long Beach in favor of L.A. proper—something he would make up for later by praising the work of Thomas Ortega, particularly the culinary masterpieces created at his flagship Long Beach restaurant Playa Amor (with a second on the way).
Even when stepping outside his definitive space of control, Gold found the best within us, even if it was ugly—and he found it by championing the underrepresented, the marginalized, the misunderstood.
In other words, he easily found the possible in the seemingly impossible: creating a sense of harmony and humanity amidst chaos, tying in sustenance to politics, culture, and a greater sense of place and being.
Support our journalism.
Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.