Eyes and Ears and Earbuds Too: LA Sounds


More changes than the color of your hair and deepness of your tan when you move to LA. Believe it or not, the same thing happens to your taste. You begin to think avocado belongs on everything and on occasion, you even crave quinoa. The same goes for music. Why? I’ll take my best guess; but first, a few steps backwards.

In 2012, the Carpet Bagger’s iPod tended to take inspiration from alleys in lower Manhattan and warehouses on the outskirts of Berlin. Go ahead, roll your eyes at it, but electronic dance music (EDM) has been infiltrating pop radio for some time now and I’m not afraid to say that I’ve liked it. Yes, I was a sucker for the deep, contemplative, and sometimes frightening melodies of trance that would all but assure that there would be no goodnight kiss on a first date, but with 3000 miles in my rearview mirror, things are changing.

Odd? I think not. There are anthropologists studying chimpanzees and ant colonies right now, trying to get to the bottom of the old nature vs. nurture question, but my personal research on music seems to give an upperhand, or at least inner eardrum, to nurture. I mean, my iPod is as out of place here as my clothes. That cyborg dance music that made so much sense in northeastern cities where robotic escalators drag you to electrified subways, that load you onto hydraulic elevators, that lift you into steal towers – it doesn’t make sense in a city that lives between a mountain and an ocean. To say that the Beach Boys could have ever surfed to Deadmau5 is to say that Jay Z could have sold drugs to Phil Collins. It’s patently absurd.

The second half of this question is: what fills a vacuum? Because every 8th grader knows that what you subtract from one side of an equation (trance music), you must add to the other. So I’m finally going to admit that I’ve fallen in love with music that I’ve spent a lifetime tuning out. We’re talking about the crappy, campy, stuff that took Rock and Roll from Baroque to Rococo; the kind of music that exiled denim jackets and curly hair to the Salvation Army about the time Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped speaking German. Phil Collins, David Bowie, Duran Duran, U2, Don Henley (post-Eagles), Tina Turner, Peter Gabriel, Dire Straits, Golden Earing… Three months ago, I would have lumped a majority of this music into the “worst ever” section of your iTunes, but I’m telling you, they’re perfect in California. Or maybe more accurately, they’re perfectly imperfect here.

See, Los Angeles is a broad basin, maybe thirty miles wide. A city framed by mountains on three sides and an ocean on the other. You cannot ignore the role of space here because there is so much of it that’s so beautiful, and yet, so crapped-up with muffler shops and 7-Elevens. Long story short, while living up to its status as one of the world’s most beautiful places, Southern California is at once one of the world’s ugliest; ugly in that failed experiment way that those 80s and 90s new wave rockers were. They were onto something, but someone else stole the biscuit. And that’s a feeling I can relate to, when a 5 mile drive in Los Angeles requires the same amount of times as a fifty mile drive in any rational part of the world.

Go ahead. Google LA’s famous boulevards. Try Pico or Olympic on for size and you’ll see what I mean: six lanes of taillights outlined by the endless neon of crappy awnings, strip malls, and Chevron stations that run from Santa Monica to San Bernardino. See, if we were going to have an honest discussion about LA, I’d be lying if I didn’t use a few pejorative words. It’s tacky, campy, crowded, and maybe not aging with the freshness its father’s had hoped. But if you love it here like I do, you can love it for its faults (on good days) and in spite of them (on bad days). It reminds me a lot of my new relationship with David Bowie’s once-a-week gender changes, U2’s hilariously self-important songwriting, and the hokey distortions in any Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel song. I mean, whatever, right? Love it or leave it, and I love it.

So come hang out with me sometime. I’ll drive you to the gas station and we can stand underneath its fluorescent lights, looking out at the sun setting over the Santa Monica Mountains while we breath someone’s else’s engine exhaust and dance to the drum solo of “In the Air Tonight”. I’m confident that you’ll find it beautiful in spite of itself and maybe understand why a new city should have a new sound.

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