Wednesday, November 11, 2020

City in the Smog – From Joni to Neil


California and Los Angeles are the two most common locales in song. From “California Dreamin’” to Led Zeppelin’s “Goin’ to California,” the rock era has embraced the Left Coast. To paraphrase Mr. Mojo, “The West is Best.” But it’s not always about California dreams – at times the sentiments are nightmares, as well. L.A. is a metaphor indeed for broken dreams and loneliness as many times as it is one of hope and joy, and often, the sentiments are that easy to decipher. Joni Mitchell sings about California with a sense of home and comfort. After what seems a pleasant enough sojourn in France and the Grecian Isles, she sings:

And I might have stayed on with him there
But my heart cried out for you, California
Oh California, I'm coming home
Oh make me feel good rock 'n' roll band
I'm your biggest fan
California, I'm coming home…
Led Zeppelin picks up on the Mamas and Papas theme with the line “Someone told me there's a girl out there with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.”
Steely Dan in “Bad Sneakers” dream instead about going back east to get away from that “Fearsome excavation on Magnolia Boulevard,” or about the “Ditch out in the Valley that they’re diggin’ for me.”
Neil Young shows the angst of those who love the Southland and hate it simultaneously in a rarity from Time Fades Away called simply, “L.A.”:
By the look in your eyes
You'd think that it was a surprise
But you seem to forget
Something somebody said
About the bubbles in the sea
And an ocean full of trees
And you know, L.A.
Uptight city in the smog, city in the smog
Don't you wish that you could be here too?
Don't you wish that you could be here too?
Don't you wish that you could be here too?
Well, it's hard to believe
So you get up to leave
And you laugh at the door
That you heard it all before
Oh, it's so good to know
That it's all just a show for you
When the suppers are planned
And the freeways are crammed
And the mountains erupt
And the valley is sucked
Into cracks in the earth
Will I finally be heard by you?
L.A.
Uptight city in the smog, city in the smog
Don't you wish that you could be here too?
Don't you wish that you could be here too?
Don't you wish that you could be here too?
It’s all about the emotional relationship one has with the Golden State, love it or hate, or both, and maybe it's The Decemberists who nail down that quandary within us:

O great calamity,
Den of iniquity and tears
How I abhor this place
Its sweet and bitter taste
Has left me wretched, wretching on all fours
Los Angeles, I'm yours

Red Hot Chili Peppers continue the contradiction in "Under the Bridge:"

At least I have her love, the city, she loves me
Lonely as I am, together we cry

But, on a Saturday, the roof down, it's Randy Newman who sums it up:

Roll down the window, put down the top
Crank up the Beach Boys, baby
Don't let the music stop
We're gonna ride it till
We just can't ride it no more

From the South Bay to the Valley
From the West Side to the East Side
Everybody's very happy
'Cause the sun is shining all the time
Looks like another perfect day...

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