My “Sad California” playlist – Part 2

California, the Golden State. Los Angeles, the city of dreams, where stars are made and fall again. A fascinating town – glamorous and seedy, full of aspiring entertainers, dazzling wannabes, and failed characters. And there are a lot of songs perfectly capturing this ambiguous nature. So, here’s the second part of my Sad California playlist:
(check out Part 1 here…)

California – Melissa Etheridge

Another one dreaming of a better life in California, not necessarily getting everything wished for. It’s the story of so many people living here: Some make it, others don’t. Sounds harsh, but so can be life in the Golden State…

The protagonist in Melissa Etheridge’s autobiographical song comes from the Midwest, and I’m not sure if she can ultimately find what she is looking for: “California, come rescue me, California, I am almost free.” ‘Almost’ being the important word here, I’d say. You can move somewhere else, pursue your dreams, search for something – but maybe you can never completely fulfill your dream or find what you’ve been looking for. True happiness and fulfillment might never be obtainable. But that could lead into another long philosophical or psychological discussion 😉 – so let’s rather play the song:


Not California – Hem

Los Angeles is one of the world capitals of the entertainment industry, and what’s brought into the world from here is consumed by millions of people who everyday see the world through Hollywood’s eyes. The 2006 song “Not California” by New York folk rock band Hem deals with the fact that the California (and the world) you see in TV shows like “The OC” is not the reality, and that your dreams are just a romanticized mirage that ultimately will make your real life appear more miserable: “And it’s not true, and it’s not fair, and it’s not you, and it’s not California here.”

As co-writer Dan Messe said: “Every time I would watch those shows, I would feel like I was being teased. I felt like after the show was over, I would feel a little less satisfied with my life. I would feel my world was more black and white…”


Room With A View – Tony Carey

According to a recent newspaper article, there now are around 60,000 homeless people living in Los Angeles – although “living” is not the best word in that case…

Their stories are as diverse as the stories of most people living in the city of angels: From outcasts to people who just couldn’t afford their medical bills. For me as a European it is hardly imaginable that having health problems can mean that you’re getting bankrupt and become homeless. But that’s exaclty what happens a lot, together with lots of other different private catastrophies. And the protagonist in Tony Careys 1988 song also fell from a normal life: “He used to be a taylor, sowed those suits so fine, and he never heard of failure, and he never tasted wine.”

He’s downtrodden, on the fringes of society; but there’s an ambiguity to it (or is he just delusional about his situation?): “He was living in a castle, that he built with his own hands, out of newspaper and cardboard, he was living off the land.” Ultimately the chorus shows the sad romantic part, the giving in to the situation: “And they say it never rains in L.A. county, but it gets cold enough to wish you had a few, and he laughs tonight and says: ‘I finally found me, a room with a view, how about you’.”

Personal side note (aka shameless self promotion): We also did a no:carrier cover of this song on our 2015 EP “Ghosts Of The West Coast”, and as usual it’s a bit darker sounding than the original (and more electronic 😉 ). With darkly beautiful vocals by Lauralee Brown:


In California – Neko Case

We already had another sad story of a girl coming to LA to make it as a movie star (see “Hollywood Seven” in the first part of the Sad California playlist), but ultimately failing and even getting killed. Here’s another one (thanks to Jeff Hendren for sending it my way!): “In California,” originally written and performed by The Lisa Marr Experiment (see below), later covered by Neko Case, is the lament of another hopeful, coming to the land of dreams, that is Los Angeles, realizing that the city is not always what it seems from afar: “In California I dream of snow, and all the places we used to go (…) now I’m living in Korea Town, waking to the sound of car alarms.”

And it’s also another example of what I’ve been writing about in the first part of this playlist: The melancholy of missing friends and family, while you’re running down your dream (Tom Petty pun intended): “I remember your face when I showed you the ticket, said you were happy for me, your heart wasn’t in it.”

And we’re bound to hear about another one who’s falling out of the system: “Another suicide on the 405, the Black Dahlia she smiles and smiles, it’s the same old town that bled her dry, one more starlet one more time, bound to make it do or die.”

But there’s still this hopeful melancholy: “They tell me LA is beautiful when it rains.”

I must admit that I like Neko Case’s version of the song a bit better, so I started with hers, but I also want to show you the original by Lisa Marr:


I Remember California – REM

Like a lot of songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, REM’s 1988 song “I Remember California” is a perfect sonic depiction of California and its ambiguous nature. There’s power and light and fun, but at the same time something dark is lurking, an uncertain melancholy and world weariness. A romantic sadness, the ultimate combination of joy and pain.

It starts all nice with “redwood trees, bumper cars and wolverines,” but the glittering facade you saw from afar quickly deteriorates. Michael Stipe doesn’t exactly say what happened, but “History is made to seem unfair.”

And with just a few words, he shows the extremes that live in Los Angeles and the Golden State: “The lowest ebb and highest tide,  a symbol wave I must confide.” And as so often, there are the hopefuls, dreaming of their big break, the “nearly was and almost rans.” Los Angeles is full of them, probably more than any other city…

Author: Chris Wirsig

Chris Wirsig enjoyed classical training on piano and saxophone, studied audio engineering at Munich’s SAE Technology College and has more than 15 years experience in music production. He has been writing songs since 1991 and contributed music for computer demos and commercial games throughout the 1990s. Apart from other music projects he started the acclaimed Electro Noire band no:carrier in 1995 and the Electronica/Chill-Out project Virtual Conformity in 2001. He worked as an editor for the musician’s magazine KEYS and founded the first German fair-trade record label, NovaTune. His latest works include music and sound fx for the acclaimed Top Ten iPad game “Alien Tribe 2”, the short mystery movie "20 Matches", the critically acclaimed no:carrier album “Wisdom & Failure”, and their EP of cover versions, "Ghosts Of The West Coast".

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