Musical Mnemonics 2: Songs About Los Angeles

Some classic albums here. They remind me of high school (first two, at least), being at my parent’s house, listening to music like crazy. I listened to music all the time. In my room, when I was drawing, writing, doing math or whatever. Sometimes if I had a “spare” class right before lunch I would walk home, make some macaroni and cheese and blast this stuff on my parent’s stereo. My grandmother must of thought I was crazy. She would be mopping the floors or weeding the garden and I’d be teenaging all around the house, learning Nirvana songs on my acoustic guitar. On a school day, even.

Fucking hell.

Anyhow, this post is about songs that I invariably think about when I visit Los Angeles, California, United States of America, North America, Earth, The Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, Local Cluster, The Universe. They endear the city to me. Before I went there, everybody was always saying: “Oh, I hate LA, it’s too big, you need a car, etc, etc.” When I first visited to play shows in like 2004 or something, I remained apprehensive. And during subsequent visits, the city in all its vastitude grew on me. I explored and discovered new neighbourhoods, and would be reminded of cultural references made to the city in movies, TV shows and in music. LA is a behemoth, yes, but it can’t be ignored. In my dream life, I spend my winters in Los Angeles.

Beastie Boys. “Do It” from Ill Communication. LA Reference: “Glendale Boulevard / Boulevard! / Glendale Boulevard / that’s where I’m at.” I listened to a lot of Beastie Boys in high school, and for a while really embraced the skateboarding, slacker culture. Surprisingly, I think the self-motivated, slacker attitude is what granted me a certain independence as a teenager, an inspiration that supercharged my creativity, making anything possible. Slackers were, really, the inspired youth of the 90’s. A slacker lifestyle enabled us to *ahem* stick it to the man, as it were. And I strongly encourage outside thinking (inside-out thinking works too) at all times. Laziness and/or apathy, however, are not acceptable.

A Tribe Called Quest. “I Left my Wallet in El Segundo” from People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. LA Reference: Chorus: “I left my wallet in El Segundo / I gotta get it, I got-gotta get it.” I sympatise. El Segundo is out by the airport. Once, I think we had to go there on tour to get our RV fixed. We did not leave our wallets behind.

Beck. “Girl” from Guero. LA Reference: Well, this is a weird one. While it seems the entire video is set in LA, I always mistook the lyrics of the chorus. I remember at the time there was a bit of a debate over what he was saying there, and even all those sketchy lyrics websites still can’t agree. I’ve seen: my summer girl, my sun-eyed girl, my cyanide girl, maizena girl. I always thought he was singing “La Cienega,” like the name of the street in LA. Listening to the song again, I am assured that I am way off. But whenever I see a street sign for La Cienega, I can’t help singing the name to the chorus of this song. And the video is fuggin’ amazing.

Quit Gawking!

Since I apparently am done with poetry, writing — and therefore poets and writers, including, but not limited to, myself and all my friends — books and reading, I thought I would provide some personal background on the topic:

Towards the end of a blog entry about writing, I mentioned my zine called Quit Gawking. Back in September, Amanda (not the same Amanda…let’s call her New Amanda) randomly asked me if I’d once had a zine. It was so out of context that I was hesitant to admit to it. Anyway, apparently she had submitted a poem that we had printed! Now this is a pretty small world occurrence, since in total we probably only printed like four poems by people we didn’t know (almost everything else came from our friends). Now what are the chances of our paths crossing over a decade later?

As if an omen of what I was to face with critics and The Dears, Quit Gawking got this review from Broken Pencil (the Canadian zine directory):

“Quit Gawking: zine / issue 4, 20 pages / no known publisher / main creators: Natalia Yanchak and Heather / free

Submissions for this are welcome. Send them stuff, poetry, artwork, fiction, opinion, questions for Marijuana Mickey, nifty images and the like. Send this stuff so the next issue will be fuller, since this one left us feeling we hadn’t even started gawking when they up and finished. There was a good story, lots of white space and cool images, but not enough heft, except for the text page that overlapped itself and looked cool and would have been great if it weren’t visually painful to actually try to read.”

So classic. Basically we busted out of the traditional overstuffed, cut-and-paste zine trend that was the style at the time, and got bashed. Sorry, everybody: we used a computer for our layout instead of a glue stick and crayons. The lesson, that I realise now, but that began so long ago? Normal is boring because it’s what everyone else is doing, but it’s also what everyone else takes to easily. So the less normal you do things, the more time it will take for people to like you. Anyway, my zine (co-founded with BFF, Heather) had a printing of I think 200 which we would photocopy and hand assemble in the conference room at my dad’s office on Sundays. We even bought one of those long-armed staplers to bind the folded legal-size pages. I think we made 8 issues, and I took it pretty seriously. I hand delivered copies to a few shops in Toronto, made stickers, and filled mail orders (free with stamp). I even networked with other zines, (my fave was .tiff, about the slacker’s casual love of computers, technology and art. Also, .tiff was borne of my old stomping ground, Roncesvalles Village.

In 1994, my friend Carly and I went to one of the first CanZine festivals, held at the perpetually seamy Spadina Hotel. There were bands and tables with the A-list of zines upstairs and like five tables downstairs where I guess the B-list zinesters were. It was kind of pathetic and boring, actually. Our only entertainment was provided by Gavin and Shane who were at the next table.

And so that is the story of my zine, and the beginning of the end of, well, many things. Back then, writing, drawing and making music were my artistic outlets. I have a lot of embarrassing, high school poetry, prose, comics and demos archived in our basement, and I would encourage every teenager to start working on their personal collection of self-conscious musings immediately. The creation of art, music and poetry should be free and unfettered. Just not everybody should be allowed to do it for a living.