Songs About Los Angeles: “Los Angeles” by Frank Black

Frank Black aka Black Francis aka Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV
Frank Black aka Black Francis (of the Pixies) aka Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV. (photo by Guillaume Sautereau / POPnews used under a Creative Commons license.)

I want to live in Los Angeles
Not the one in Los Angeles
No, not the one in South California
They got one in South Patagonia

The lyrics don’t seem to make sense, and songwriter Frank Black himself said, “I was under the influence of a lot of coffee when I wrote this song, so I don’t really remember what it’s about, but I think it’s about linguistics.” 

But I can’t help think its a personal statement about how Los Angeles, a city where people come to realize their dreams, isn’t always what people want it be. Even longtime residents have an image of what Los Angeles is, or should be, that they have yet to find. Its the “grass is always greener” concept, but that life would be so much different on the other side of the hills, further or closer to the coast.

Whether or not this is the case overlooks that a number of Black’s other song’s make more direct references to Los Angeles in, usually, more tangible ways.

Black acknowledged to a fan that “The Hostess With the Mostess” from Teenager of the Year was about Torrance’s Del Amo Mall.  “Calistan,” off the same album, appears to be a look at a modern day post apocalyptic “valley of tar that once was L.A.” “So. Bay” from Pistolero mentions “shitty sidewalks a number of times before:

It’s almost night and i just might head to the Strand down by the sea
at the edge edge of the world that’s where i really want to be.

Yet most significant are three songs, perhaps a trilogy of sorts, pointing to Black’s interest in Los Angeles history.

“Ole, Mulholland” from Teenager of the Year opens with a soundbyte of William Mullholand shouting, “There it is! Take it!” before Black sings, “Olè, olè, olè from Mulholland. See the water fall. And hooray, hooray the sky is falling. Down on Bradbury’s mall.” Towards the end of the song, there’s another audioclip, sounding like an old recording, of a man saying, “The concrete of the aquaduct will last as long as the pyramid of Egypt or the Parthenon of Athens; long after Job Harriman is elected major of Los Angeles.”

Gavin Bachner, who maintains the Frank Black song database, explains:

Job Harriman was a socialist politition who, after an unsuccessful run for Vice-President of the United States, ran for mayor of Los Angeles and nearly won. He later organized a utopian experiment in Antelope Valley, California in 1914 founded on the general principles of “equal ownership, equal wage and equal social opportunities.” Llano del Rio, as it was called, was forced to move 3 years later (due to a lack of sufficient water resources) to an isolated area in western Louisiana.

A few years later, Black revisited both Mulholland and Llano del Rio again, albeit with two different songs,  on the Frank Black & the Catholics album, Dog In the Sand. “The St. Francis Dam Disaster” is a non-judgemental tale of the damage brought by the collapsed dam:

She carried in her every kiind of thing
House, tree, telegraph pole
Some say a thousand souls
At three am she gave Santa Paula a ring

On the flip side, “Llano del Rio” is somewhat more uplifting, and a more conventional rock’n’roll themed song about heading into the desert and getting high.

Going out to llano
Going to look for aldous huxley
There between the power lines
And the purple flowers of mescaline

As much as he apparently was fascinated by Los Angeles, Black now resides up near Eugene, OR, although his occasional tours bring him down to So Cal with some frequency. He’s about to go off on the road with Grand Duchy, Black’s musical collaboration with wife Violet Clark, and also has a number of Pixies dates lined up over the summer.

(By sheer coincidence, it turns out that today is Black’s 44th birthday – Twitter users can send a b-day greeting to @mrblackfrancis. And in the comments, Evan says that Black was born Charles Thompson in Long Beach, CA… although his Wikipedia entry claims he was born in Boston, but moved back and forth between Los Angeles and Massachuttes fifteen times in his youth.)

Now, for the vintage Frank Black sound:


Check out more entries in the Songs About Los Angeles series.

5 thoughts on “Songs About Los Angeles: “Los Angeles” by Frank Black”

  1. I love how the video makes fun of hair metal.

    Yet, the song still rocks. Hard.

  2. As far as I’m aware, he’s also the only one to have written a song about another fascinating chapter in Los Angeles history, the St. Francis Dam disaster.

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