You know how you notice when places are mentioned in a song you like, and you kinda nod, like, “Oh, yeah. Another song about New York.” Well, there’s a totally different sense of recognition if you actually live in the place mentioned. I swear that songs I’ve been listening to for years finally made sense when I moved to Los Angeles.
This was a new phenomenon for me because Wichita, Kansas, doesn’t have a lot of claims to fame songwise, unless you count “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (which doesn’t count, btw, because it was song about LEAVING Kansas).
Allow me to translate the meaning of some of my favorite California-centric songs. It’s possible that I read entirely too much into lyrics, but that’s the listener’s discretion, right? Right!
Los Angeles I’m Yours – The Decemberists
Observation: The city is foul but despite this (or because of this?) I love it even more.
Lyrical evidence: O great calamity/Ditch of iniquity and tears/How I abhor this place/Its sweet and bitter taste/Has left me wretched, retching on all fours/Los Angeles, I’m yours
California – Tom Petty
Observation: California isn’t like anywhere else. As far as Californians are concerned, we live in the United States of California, and we are the mayors of our own mini, self-reliant universe, where we must claw our way to fame/fortune/paying the rent. (Note Tom’s sarcasm in the first few lines of the lyrics … or is it my own?)
Lyrical evidence: California’s been good to me/Hope it don’t fall into the sea/Sometimes you got to save yourself/It ain’t like anywhere else
L.A. Woman – The Doors
Observation: This city is dead at night. Truthfully, everything closes early. But hey! There’s always cops and prostitutes if you get too lonely.
Lyrical evidence: Driving down your freeways/Midnight alleys roam/Cops in cars, the topless bars/Never saw a woman…/So alone, so alone
Santa Monica – Everclear
Observation: The city makes you yearn for a simple life that is impossible in the city.
Lyrical evidence: I just want to feel some sunshine/I just want to find some place to be alone
California – Rufus Wainwright
Observation: The city is so vast and cumbersome to navigate that I’d rather not leave the house.
Lyrical evidence: California, California/You’re such a wonder that I think I’ll stay in bed/Big time rollers, part time models/So much to plunder/That I think I’ll sleep instead
Going to California – Led Zeppelin
Observation: It’s hard out here for a dreamer. You can stand on that hill, but you probably can’t afford to live on it.
Lyrical evidence: Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams/Telling myself its not as hard, hard, hard as it seems
California Stars – Billy Bragg & Wilco
Observation: It’s important to have a partner while trying to achieve your goals in California. It’s hard to keep on keepin’ on alone.
Lyrical evidence: I’d love to feel your hand touching mine/And tell me why I must keep working on/Yes, I’d give my life to lay my head tonight/On a bed of California stars
California Nights – Lesley Gore
Observation: Nighttime strolls on the beach are the quick way to get some perspective, and it’s entertainment in a pinch when money is tight.
Lyrical evidence: Love California nights/When I’m walkin’ with you hand in hand by the shore
All I Wanna Do – Sheryl Crow
Observation: Los Angelenos like to wash their cars. A lot.
Lyrical evidence: The good people of the world are washing their cars/On their lunch break, hosing and scrubbing/As best they can in skirts in suits
Walking in L.A. – Missing Persons
Observation: Nobody walks in L.A. Unless they’re walking to their cars, that is. Or walking around their cars while washing them.
Lyrical evidence: Walking in L.A./Nobody walks in L.A.
Los Angelenos – Billy Joel
Observation: I come from the Midwest. Where’s my effin’ sports car?
Lyrical evidence: Los Angelenos/All come from somewhere/To live in sunshine/Their funky exile/Midwestern ladies/High-heeled and faded/Drivin’ sleek new sports cars