THAT’S BOWIE ABOVE, but this whole thing started not with him or this riff, but with an old friend trolling for information on Facebook last week. Touchstones : music, fashion, memories — that would locate him back in 1977 for a young adult novel he is writing. And so we all have been digging deep, back into “the breezeways of our youth,” I teased. This, coincidentally, coincided with the death of J.D. Salinger. I read The Catcher in the Rye that year for the first serious time. I have a tendency as a reader to remember not just the book, but where I was when I was reading it, so this news then placed me in one of Culver City Jr. High School’s sunlight-flooded classrooms, sunk into a sofa sulking at the rear, with that maroon paperback in my hands. 1977. Culver City. Integrating. We were all pushing up against one another. It wasn’t angry, though sometimes it had an edge — racially speaking. I think most of us were simply curious. Fights happened over space, lunch tables, what music could or should be playing at nutrition or lunch — those things are touchstones themselves.
WE LIVED so close to the water that that was a distraction and device itself. Surf culture for us was so different than in the “Gidget” movies or Beach Boys songs. The beaches were dirtier by then and felt just as urban as that grove of new skyscrapers that were springing up downtown but those surf tribes made their way down to the water daily and brought with them young men mostly of various ethnicities and background: an image that won’t go away: Erik Lopez in a baja, his brown, wavy hair down nearly, but not quite, to his hips, “riding” the aisle on the #5 bus as if conquering a wave.
The Asian kids were the Earth, Wind and Fire fans — more vocal and loyal than us black kids and after a certain point, you had to just let them have them.
It was difficult to be possessive about music; it was free-floating. But you had to be sure not to be too “out there” with your preferences that served to separate. Slippery slope. By then, I was listening up-and-down the dial — interant, aural thrill seeker. I wanted to *know.* I brought Stevie Wonder with me from another time, place, neighborhood. I carried him everywhere. He never went away.
But I was curious about all of these new sounds — even some of the noise. Stations whose call-letters don’t exist anymore — KPOL, KBCA, KDAY, KGFJ, KMET — still clutter my consciousness, my memories of growing up in Southern California before it became so completely plastic and difficult to not just navigate but permeate.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, in that moment was still fetching. A goal for some, a impetus to flee for others. Growing up between those two moments — the rustic wildness diminishing, the temples to what those thought it should be climbing up from the flatness, made life feel otherworldly at times, like you were part of some strange slip-stream.
Surprisingly, the film that articulated that for me more than others was “The Lords of Dogtown.” The opening scene when the boys (see top photo) are out before dawn surfing in that dirty muck of the Pacific Ocean I knew well at that time. Surfing among those hovering ruins of the the pier, but not minding the ruins, in fact, remaking them as something else. All of this too, this week, since this is way-back machine, 1970s week to be thinking about the Eagles of all bands. But this report on NPR got me thinking about again, the long arms of SoCal. A DJ in Port au Prince, Haiti, apparently had been playing the Eagles’ bombshell hit “Hotel California” at the moment the quake struck. He had the presence of mind to hit the “replay” button and so that eerie entreaty: “Welcome to the Hotel California” played over and over and over as the frail city fell. Again, it came in a flash — the air, the tension, the shifts of the terrain — impermanence. It came in waves.