Music has a way of connecting to sense memories. Certain songs will take you back in time, recreating a remembered feeling each time you hear them. Every time I hear the halting-driving-halting-driving opening beats of “Los Angeles” it takes me back to a time when I was truly discovering my home.
I came to punk rock late. In the late-70s and early-80s when punk was hitting its stride, I was still in elementary and middle schools in Glendora, at the far eastern edge of the county. I always thought I grew up in L.A., but it turned out to be a small, cloistered corner.
It wasn’t until after high school and the freedom of my own car that I started to explore Pasadena, downtown, Hollywood and points west. Then I began to really discover Los Angeles. That coincided with the period when I became aware of bands like the Ramones, New York Dolls, Black Flag, and X.
By the time I found X, they had “gone on hiatus” (read: broken up) in the late-80s. I can’t explain what it was that drew me to X. Perhaps something about the dissonant warble of Exene’s voice paired with John Doe’s. Whatever it was, I liked it. Of all of the X songs that I liked, “Los Angeles” became my favorite. I didn’t know all of the lyrics, but I could always shout “Los Angeles” along with John and Exene as I cruised down the 110 past Dodger Stadium, then up the 101 toward Hollywood and the Sunset Strip.
When I was old enough to drink, the song would get me pumped up on my way to the Rainbow, where I would sit and have a beer, waiting to see which aging rock star would turn up at the bar. I never ran into anyone from X there, but it was their song that played as overture to the nights when I saw Slash eating pizza in the dining room, or a very drunk Billy Idol bought me (and anyone who would listen) a drink.
A couple of years later I got a job as a bouncer at Toe’s Tavern in Pasadena. X were regulars on the playlist at Toe’s, and when word got around that they were planning to play together again, we made sure some of those early gigs happened in our bar.
The night of their first show with us came, and I so excited that a now legendary band that I thought I would never see live was about to play one of my favorite songs (among others) in my bar.
We didn’t have a dressing room, so the band used the upstairs office prior to their show. I took a tub of beer up for the band, and balanced it on one knee as I twisted the handle and swung the office door open. I was about to carry the beer into the office, but stopped dead in the doorway. I looked into the room to see several people sitting around the perimeter while John Doe, clad in boxer shorts with his pants around his ankles, danced around in a circle waving his arms above his head and hooting like an owl. He turned and saw me standing in the doorway and stopped, his arms dropping to his sides.
“Great,” Doe said. “Now you’re going to tell all your friends, ‘I saw John Doe dancing around in his underwear.'”
I grinned and said, “Yes. Yes, I am.” And now I’m telling you.
Half an hour later X climbed onto the little stage downstairs. Doe had clearly gotten over whatever minor embarrassment there might have been, because he and the rest of the band played an awesome, as-tight-as-punk-can-be set. “Johnny Hit And Run Pauline,” “White Girl,” “Burning House Of Love,” and every other song I had hoped for. And, of course, an encore of “Los Angeles.”
20 years after I discovered it and nearly 30 years after it was recorded, “Los Angeles” still gets my blood pumping. I can be sitting at my desk at home, but when I hear the opening line – “She had to leave…Los Angeles!” – I’m right back in the driver’s seat of my ’67 Mustang on a summer night. The windows are down and a hot wind is blowing through (a lot more of) my hair as I race down the freeway toward a city, my city, where magic happens. As D.J. Bonebrake pounds out that halting beat on the drums, I shout along with Exene and John as if calling out to the city, announcing my arrival.
Check out Julia’s post for the rest of the Songs About Los Angeles.