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To Live & Listen in LA (Now With Playlist!)

  • By BC Gibson Author Avatar
  • 14 March 2013

     When I was young and growing up in New Jersey, Los Angeles scared me.  The place didn‘t seem safe.  Granted, I didn’t have a first hand experience, because I’d never truly visited the city.  I was 6 or 7 and my impression was dominated by a few images, the majority being disaster coverage news.  To my gullible little mind, Los Angeles was a city of brushfires and earthquakes, where a car chase or a race riot might occur at any time.  Apparently, there had also been a Battle of Los Angeles, and that didn‘t sound good to me either, not when I was 6 or 7.  

     But when I was 16, I was listening to Rage Against the Machine before my soccer games (or, football matches), and by that time I’d long seen that my childhood conception of Los Angeles had mostly been framed by the OJ Simpson trial (no pun intended, obviously), and by a distressing layover I’d had at LAX when I was 5.  A few years later, when I’d come to not rate New Jersey very highly, Los Angeles looked much more appealing.  It certainly had distance going for it.
The day I left New Jersey and headed west-as if I really had been running from THE MAN-I left abruptly in the late afternoon and drove all through the night.  I didn’t look back until I’d crossed the Mississippi into St. Louis, pulling into the parking lot of the Gateway Arch just before dawn.  Sitting underneath the symbolic gateway to the west and laughing to myself about the  cliché, I watched the sunrise and when the joke got old, fell asleep there on the grass.  Three hours later I woke up with the sun in my eye and grass stains on my jeans; unrefreshed but undeterred, I got back in my car and continued towards California.  
     I remember the CDs I listened to, driving through all those fly-over states.  There were a few soundtracks: 24 Party People, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Lost in Translation; a few classics: The Velvet Underground & Nico, Exile on Main Street, The Freewheelin‘ Bob Dylan; and a few more recent favorites: Turn on the Bright Lights, Funeral, Kid A.  I had purchased all of those albums in stores of brick and mortar, and I was listening to them via a CD player; but still, in May 2005, it felt to me like I was driving towards the future.  I didn’t have a fucking clue what my own future would look like, but I was hoping it would find me when I got there.  
     Though I’ve always been leery about THE FUTURE, my own and generally, in both regards I’ve never been a first adaptor.  For example, years after I’d moved to the west coast, I was still buying CDs at traditional stores.  That experience seems quaint now, but part of me misses buying CDs on the high street or at the local mall.  I miss handing the CDs to the cashier and then receiving their judgment, where they give you a face of dismay or approval.  In the past, purchasing pornography was a similar kind of experience; like, “Hello sir, I’d like to purchase these adult videotapes”, and then, judgment.  However, that experience does not seem as quaint in hindsight.    
    My last CD-store purchase was Our Love to Admire, by Interpol.  To go with changing times, that CD also came with a digital download, which was all I wound up using.  The plastic case itself still sits on my shelf in the original wrapping.  Now, below that shelf and underneath my desk, the sum-total of my music fits onto the hard drive of my computer; and not only is there room for 30,000 songs there, but also room enough to have a duplicate 30,000 on an external hard drive.  Good to have because albums of the digital sort vanish much more easily; you are always a few false clicks or a Chinese Army-hack away from the total annihilation of your musical past.  Back with old-timey records, for them to disappear your GF or your mom used to have to throw them out, and even then you had time to fetch them out of the trash before the garbage truck came.
     Other histories are still difficult to erase, as ever, the ones inside your own head being the obvious example.  The advance of science might allow us to one day manipulate our memory as easily as we do our C-drive, but for now, one of the more effective methods for a non-pharmaceutical, non-invasive brain-defrag is an old fashioned change in scenery.  In a new place, you can be a new person.  It happened to be a lucky coincidence for me then that I wound up in Los Angeles, because this city is a premier destination for those looking to reinvent themselves.  Many here are even looking to reinvent themselves for a living, and of course this city is full of bad actors, but two other key factors play into the fresh-start feel of the place, factors besides the presence of the entertainment industry.  
     First, Los Angeles has very little history to speak of.  It‘s only been a city since 1850, but even in that short time, the rule of thumb has been to bulldoze places before anyone thinks to call them historical.  And good riddance!  History only weighs you down!  Shiny new things only please.  The second factor is the weather.  It’s just so god damn nice outside all the time; rainy days are a welcome relief!  Finally, an excuse to stay inside and lay around.  What’s more, the weather remains that way for most of the year; when the seasons change it’s barely noticeable.  There is summer, and then there is the part of summer where it gets cooler at night, and you might want to bring a light jacket.  But it‘s not perfect. It’s close, admittedly, but there is at least one drawback.  When the days of warm sun start stringing together, time means something different; or it does to me, at least.
 Without the seasons like I remember from my youth, the years pass more indiscriminately, unencumbered as they are by the seasonal depression that marks them out in other places, like New Jersey or Sunderland.
     In the time that I’ve lived here, and not really on purpose, I’ve arrived at a practice of my own, a practice that artificially segments my past.  Every month, I create a play list of new music, and it becomes my soundtrack for that time.  These play lists don’t slow time down so much as thay act as a record and testimony, proof that I was alive at that specific time.  Hearing a song from a month in my past, like from January, 2009 (January, 2009?), I am instantly reminded of that time.  These memories don’t always come with images, sometimes its just the song and an emotion and no other specifics; the connection in my mind doesn’t seem right, because it’s from correlation, not causation.  It’s just a block of pure, uncut nostalgia.    
     Maybe trying to stay consistent, I am often as skeptical about the past as I am about the future, at least I am when the upwelling comes as an emotion, unattached to its proper context.  It‘s fine in its place, but not at random.  It’s much better when there is a context.  Old songs can be accesable again when they have been placed in a well defined theme.  Then time at least becomes the secondary way of classifying them.   As a result of living here, I’m partial to songs about California or Los Angeles, and they constitute one of my favorite themes.  We Californians love songs about California, because they remind us how great it is to live here.  Having this reminder is especially welcome, being that we have no history or weather to jog our recollection otherwise.  Yes, it’s a pretty good deal.   
     So I thought you’d never ask but here it is, my bakers-dozen Los Angeles-themed play list.   I guarantee it’s better than our history, but I wont go so far as to say it’s better than our weather.      
(For the sake of brevity, I've only used songs that have been released in the time I've lived here.)
1)“Eyes Be Closed”-Washed Out 
I’m driving up the coast on the P.C.H.  The sun is warm and there’s no where I need to be.
2)“Let’s Go Surfing”-The Drums
The lyrics to the chorus of this song are, according to the internet, “Oh mamma, I want to go surfing.”  Personally though, I much prefer to hear, “Obama, I want to go surfing.”  That’s the hope & change I want to see.
3)“WannaBe in L.A.”-Eagles of Death Metal
Take the 10 to get to Beverly?  I wouldn’t go that way, too much traffic.  Just stay home instead.
4)“Que’ Onda Guero”-Beck
In greater Los Angeles, there are a lot of Latinos.  There are also a lot of Scientoligists.  Que putas?
5)“Los Angeles”-Jacuzzi Boys
In my opinion, Jacuzzi Boys is a terrible name for a band.  Just saying.   
6)“Hollywood Forever Cemetary Sings”-Father John Misty
They show movies at the Hollywood Forever Cemetary.  Great date night.
7)“Sleepless in Silverlake”-Les Savy Fav
I think this song is about doing cocaine in Silverlake
8)“California Girls”-Magnetic Fields
This song is about the girls, not the “gurls”.  Don’t think I’ve met any of the latter.  
9)“Life in L.A.”-Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffitti
“What can I say?”
10)“Sun Was High (So Was I)”-Best Coast
Best Coast used to sound like this and I liked them more then.  
11)“Let’s Get Lost”-Elliot Smith
LA is certainly a beautiful place where you can easily get lost.  In some cases it ends very sadly.
12)“California Sunrise”-Dirty Gold
There are occasions where waking up sounds like this.
13)“Master Cleanse (California)”-Josiah Wolf
Mostly, California has done good to me.  Mostly.     

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