Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Taking the Boy Out of LA

It felt as though my city had betrayed me. In my early twenties, I’d been a star. I’d written for the Los Angeles Times, and had a record deal of my own. I’d driven a Porsche, and had as my life partner a universal object of desire. But by the time of my departure, I’d been reduced to taking demeaning word processing jobs to keep the lights on, and it seemed that every time I stopped at a red light, some ghastly little twerp whose agent — I didn’t have one — had just secured him a development deal would pull up beside me sneering in a car that cost more than I’d earned in the 80s. 

And I kept hearing the voice of my acquaintance Craig Fisher in my mind’s ear. “How,” he’d marveled disdainfully, “can anybody be content to stay as an adult where he grew up?” It was bad enough that I’d lacked both the money and the nerve to go away to college, as others had. Here I was, almost 20 years after the fact, lacking the gumption to admit it wasn’t working for me any more, and to light out for somewhere else where it might.

And there was my daughter, born five months before. Over the years, as my stardom had dissipated, I’d first moved ever farther east (as far as Wilton Avenue, on what was then the western edge of Koreatown), and then ever farther south. In Los Angeles, one on the rise moves north and west. There we (my first wife and my daughter and I) living a couple of hundred yards north of Pico Blvd. while anyone who was anyone lived north of Santa Monica Blvd, at the very least, and preferably in one of the canyons, north of Sunset Blvd. I myself had hung my hat in Laurel Canyon in my salad days, and hadn’t lived on the wrong side of Melrose in the 15 years since I’d left Venice. I’d look out the living room window of our little house on Ogden Avenue at the apartment building across the street, realize that by mid-afternoon I’d barely be able to see it for the air pollution, and ask myself, “Do you really want to raise your daughter in…this?” 

Thirty years ago today, I abandoned Los Angeles. I lived first in Santa Rosa, California, 50 miles north of San Francisco, in the wine country, and then, when my first marriage collapsed, in San Francisco itself. After 11 years there, it was back to Santa Rosa, for three years, and then five years in the UK, 10 months in the American heartland, three years in New York’s Hudson Valley, and another 17 months in the UK before I realized that wherever you go, there you are, and that you can take the boy out of his LA, but you can’t take LA out of the boy. As much as I detested it when I left, I loved it when I returned. As did nowhere else I’d hung my hat, it felt like home.

I’d come to the UK imagining it to be the magical place I’d first visited 30 years before, a place of glorious, spectacular fashion and the best pop music on earth. I’d stroll in some grim little suburb like Rayners Lane and imagine a young Townshend or Syd Barrett up in his closet-sized bedroom writing songs that would shake the world, or at least fill me with delight. One needed only stroll down the Kings Road in central London, once lined with wonderful colorful boutiques that expressed their proprietors’ unique visions, but lined now with big soulless chain stores, to realize that England had vanished. (And it gets ever worse. As I write this, Soho’s Denmark Street, England’s Tin Pan Alley, is being demolished to make way for luxury flats for smug young assholes who work in the London equivalent of Wall Street.) I’d fled to Wisconsin, and then to the Hudson Valley, hoping they might feel a little bit more like home, and they had — very, very marginally. 

Visiting Vancouver on the first day of the new century, I’d been struck by the beauty of the mountains in its background. On the day I got back to LA to say in January 2013, it dawned on me that if one faced in the right direction, there were gorgeous mountains in my home town’s background too. And the light — the soft, buttery, golden late afternoon light of mid-January! How had I failed to see it as a younger man? 

I’ve given up the companionship of the person to whom I’m closest in all the world to be here, and won’t deny that I am subject to awful loneliness in my city, just as in all the others in which I’ve lived. (Wherever you go, there you are.) But there really is no place like home. 

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