Songs about Los Angeles: “Los Angeles” by X

April 8, 2009 at 10:15 am in Music

Putting the "old" in "oldschool"--X vinyl from my teen years
1980 was the year I turned 15. Reagan was elected to his first term. The Preppy Handbook was published. People were playing Pac-man and watching The Empire Strikes Back. I went to high school in a bourgie suburb of Washington, D.C. where I was surrounded by excessively privileged teenagers sporting pink espadrilles and bright green corduroys with whales printed all over them. While everyone else was watching Caddyshack I was watching Mad Max. I was the consummate alienated adolescent. And then I discovered punk rock, and I was like “Oh! I’m not depressed–I’m angry!”

1980 also happens to be the year that Dischord Records released their first EP. The growing D.C. punk scene made the Reagan regime bearable for some of us among the few Washingtonians at odds with Joseph Giordano’s assertion, “Today we are all Republicans.”

Me and my two punk rock gal pals at 15

I went to a bunch of hardcore shows when I was 15 and 16. I had the punk rock girl uniform (mini-kilt, combat boots, tee shirt, skinhead girl hair cut). I went to shows at Fort Reno and the 9:30 and various makeshift venues (J’s basement, some random bbq joint in Virginia). And yet, my favorite band was X, not hardcore and not from D.C. And X has stood the test of time for me. While I really never listen to Minor Threat or SOA or GI anymore, I do still slide Los Angeles or Wild Gift into the CD player on the way to work and wail along with Exene:

She had to leave
Los Angeles
All her toys wore out in black and her boys had too
She started to hate every nigger and jew
Every mexican that gave her lotta shit
Every homosexual and the idle rich

(For the uninitiated, the rest of the lyrics, which are less offensive, are here. Give it a listen on last.fm)

To the degree that I liked LA punk “back in the day” I think part of the attraction was its offensiveness.  DC punk was, relatively speaking, actually pretty politically correct, ironically enough. There really was a punk girl “uniform.” The LA scene, on the other hand, sustained women like Exene, who had snaky dreds and wore house-dresses. (Our big fashion question being: Should I wear the red kilt or the blue one?) Many of the D.C. punks were “straight edge” and didn’t drink or do drugs (of course, many of us were also 15). And certainly none of the Dischord bands would use the N-word in a song. We may have prided ourselves on our shocking haircuts, but we also recycled; it was that sort of scene. LA in contrast was pretty alcoholic and anarchic. At 15 X represented a sort of hipster multiculturalism to me (n-word notwithstanding) that I didn’t find in my hometown. (Admitedly, I see now that was due to my own blindness, but hey, I was 15.)

At the time, I had no idea I would ever live in this crazy town. In fact, I was by equal measure attracted and repulsed by what I saw as LA’s lawlessness. I did have my “She had to get out!” experience with Washington in the mid-eighties when I moved away to a Midwestern college town to get a grad degree or two and escape the crazy people on the bus and the urine smell in the alleys. I’m almost embarassed to admit that in those Madison years I came to love X even more for the place they assumed in the pantheon of American culture for me. I spent too many years getting a Ph.D. in American Studies, and X sits alongside Walt Whitman and James Dean and Frank Norris (look it up) in the brilliant way they at once articulate America’s promise and failure. Indeed, “It felt sad.”

Check out the rest of the Songs About Los Angeles series here.

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