I can’t sleep at night when I’m not in L.A. At first, I figured it was displacement anxiety, as Johnny is an uptight lad when removed from his familiar surroundings. But after a couple of weeks away this winter, it dawned on me: It’s the silence, stupid.
Noise is life. Noise is evidence of existence. And in Los Angeles, you get reminded on a minute-by-minute basis of the city’s vibrance from its plethora of sounds, many of which we regard as a nuisance — but just try to imagine living here without them.
Noise is also a class issue. Downtown teems with pedestrians (a sign of poverty), and Pico-Union is filled with street vendors and hawkers (ditto). As you move west, the city gets wealthier and quieter. By the time you hit the mountains or Malibu (disregarding such tourist magnets as Hollywood and Venice), it’s rather still. That’s what purchased isolation gets you. Big bucks equal sonic solitude. And insomnia.
That may be utopia for some, but not for me. Wouldn’t it weird you out some if the perennial parade of ice-cream hawkers, with their incessant kiddie-tune entreaties looped for 20 minutes, disappeared? One wonders whether the amount of sugary dairy consumed by the average Angeleno child can be estimated by the duration of ice-cream-truck theme songs. “It’s a Small World After All” would appear to be my hood’s fave, replete with imbecilic sound effects.
Where I live (in the Silver Lake–Echo Park borderlands), the mating of music to the palate is a given. When selling eats isn’t the crux of the matter here, it’s “dueling bandas,” in which a pair of Mexi-oompah freaks duke it out along las calles, armed with over 100dBs apiece. It’s the south-of-the-border variation on “my hip-hop’s bigger than yours,” which is testosterone-fueled and cochlea-shattering. Still, it beats the 8-track Foghattery of my youth — this music was grown here, after all.
The loudest, proudest and most provincial noise is, of course, the LAPD whirlybird — L.A.’s very own window-shaking ninth symphony. Luckily for us, the local helipad is a mere three blocks from here, so the oldie “Still of the Night” ’s message never ever applies. Added attraction? The “searchlight through the blinds” that, er, blinds. Just doing their jobs, sir and/or ma’am.