The Sound of Pretending
I grew up in New England. Our sound track was, "This Is Boston, Not L.A. This Is Boston, Fuck L.A.!" "Oh, now, c'mon," thought young I. "Waddaya gotta be so angry for? No one was mistaking you for L.A., Boston."
I also lived in New York City, Paris and Denver. All cold places, in both senses of the word. And New Hampshire. So white — snow, fence, house and skin. I've always been a visitor of L.A., though, and it was always wonderful. First in my childhood and early teens whenever my father would get out of prison (in Lompoc), and I discovered the Germs, N.W.A, the Beach Boys, crazy colors, the human body (we focus on the brain alone on my coast), warm water, bonfires and Mexicans.
In my late teens I stayed in L.A. to be in a movie (I was fired), and I discovered art galleries, weird food (tiny portions, unknown food categories) and people so moneyed they seemed made up.
I stayed in L.A. again in my 20s to work on a series (I was fired), and on that trip I discovered a bunch of funny, easy women who smoked pot, wrote for HBO and paid people to do everything else for them, including keeping their calendar!
At 30 I was flown back to L.A. to give a seminar on making a movie on $700 (I got walked out on), and I discovered cool record and thrift stores, hearts on fire (made out of metal for the wall, and ink for the flesh ... even the throat!), gals in black eyeliner and red lips and tight dresses with cherries on them, and heaping vegan breakfasts.
I don't think of specific bands or even one kind of music as the L.A. sound. I think the L.A. sound is where and how you hear it. Lowriders cruise by, blaring it. Good-looking people, famous people, lost people waft in line outside of clubs: The door opens, the music pours out into the night, coating the good-looking, famous, lost people, then it swallows them in and they are in the music and the music is gone.
It's warm at night. The music sounds different in semidarkness and warmth. It feels liquid. In the day, the sun shines on the music hovering at windows you pass by on foot, or from convertibles passing by you, sounds spiked with graffiti, mosaics, the shouts of homeless philosophers.
People ready to dance to anything or nothing — shirtless men, or dressed like Santa Claus or giant food, I don't know why. New Englanders don't understand doing things for fun, for no reason. Just like we don't understand mustaches, or jobs that make no sense yet pay well, and just appear, and then just as easily disappear.
You're always late — no one's worried, there's time. You don't feel the impending winter. Hills still smoldering from yesterday's wildfire, and you walk by in your wet suit, you don't feel the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse breathing behind you. I hear them, though, with my vestigial cold eardrum. With my other ear, I hear all of L.A. inside the music — all that not-worrying. Rich women with husbands for pets. Life like a story. Bicycles. Cacti.
It's not just how it feels on your skin, the music. Appearance, too, is a big part of how the sound registers. There's that peculiar-to-L.A. fake realness. N.W.A were not fatherless drug dealers. (Yes, Eazy dealt ... but what middle-class teen among us didn't for a little bit?) Darby Crash was not an out-of-control spewer of ugly words. He was a sensitive and dedicated poet. The Beach Boys did not surf, most of them, yet there's more authentic "surfiness" to their music than to any band that does surf. If you live in L.A., you get lost in the portrayal. Because you devote so much time portraying the thing, there's no time left for the thing. It's a sacrifice, really. You're trading your real life for art, for explaining the thing that you're not doing.
L.A. is known as pretentious. But I think "pretending" is a better word. That's what children do, and it's lovely and true.
L.A., when I was a child, I wrote this song about you:
All the night-winking ladies
Pull down their light pinky shadies
And do what all of them do
It's nothing new
It's L.A.; it's L.A.
I love L.A., yes I do, yes I do
I love L.A., yes I do. Lisa Carver is a musician (Suckdog), a zine pioneer (Rollerderby), a memoirist (Drugs Are Nice), a columnist and a rad mom. She is also one of the most original writers of her generation, and a subtle observer of the joyful underbelly of the American Dream.
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