Bridget Hoida On: So L.A. Soundtrack

I must admit, when the brilliant Meg over at  A Bookish Affair asked for a So L.A. playlist, I was tempted to reach into the tight back pocket of my L.A. iconography jeans and grab some Southland song classics like: “Hotel California” by The Eagles; “California Girls” both—the David Lee Roth & The Beach Boys versions; Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.”; or even the fabulous—and fabulously appropriate— “L.A. Woman” by The Doors…

But I didn’t.

Even though these songs make me smile, and I’ll openly admit to singing them loudly while driving the 405, or cheering at a Laker’s game, they weren’t “So L.A.”, at least not in the bookish sense.

Although some have mistakenly taken So L.A. for “chick lit” or a “light summer read,” (maybe it’s the cover? maybe it’s the title? maybe it’s because I’m a blonde woman writing about a blonde woman who lives in L.A.?) it’s actually a much darker satire about love and beauty myths and the necessary emotions everyone feels in the face of intense personal loss.

Yes, it has rhinestones, movie stars, fancy cars and a whole lot of Hollywood sass, but So L.A. is more than just tinsel. It’s a woman from a small town who is struggling to reinvent herself, after the loss of her brother and the process, although eventually redeeming, is oftentimes very messy.

Below you will find the extended liner notes for my So L.A. Soundtrack so turn the radio up, spread your towel on my deck chair, lay back, and let’s  listen to a lesser heard So L.A.

1. Red Dirt Girl by Emmylou Harris

Magdalena, the protagonist of So L.A. was born and raised in the agrarian San Joaquin Valley, in the small grape town of Lodi, California. This song, about two best friends who grew up in the dusty farmlands of another small American farm town, really speaks to much of the ranching backstory of So L.A.  In “Red Dirt Girl,” which Emmylou Harris admits is more of a story set to music, one of the friends loses her brother and after his death she, like Magdalena, is forever changed. In So L.A. I named Magdalena’s childhood dog Gideon, in homage to this song.

 2. “I’m New Here” by Gil Scott-Heron

I originally heard this song as performed by songwriter Bill Callahan of Smog. It was good. But OMG! When I heard Gil Scott-Heron’s recording I melted. No really, I lost my legs and fell into a heap of sunglasses and a-lined skirts on my kitchen floor. It. Was. Just. That. Stunning. And what the song speaks to is perhaps Magdalena’s biggest struggle: how to turn herself and her life around. The song opens with Gil’s aged yet melodic voice straining to sing: “I did not become someone different / That I did not want to be” and I want to stress the intentionality of this sentiment and how it directly applies to Magdalena (and many other women in L.A.) So often in life (and L.A.) people, especially women, are perceived to be “victims” of their “circumstances.” They are forced into cosmetic surgery or other such drastic measures by “the pressure of the male gaze” or “our phallocentric world view” but as Magdalena (and many real women) will tell you, she wanted desperately to reinvent herself. In fact, one of the most touching moments in the novel is when her husband Ricky quietly asks her to stop. When he tells her he liked her (and her boobs) better before she went under the knife.  But when you’re “new here” or want to be “new,” Heron’s advice can be hard to remember and even harder to follow as he sings (and I grow faint from the sound of his voice): “No matter how far wrong you’ve gone/ You can always turn around.”

3. Look At Me by John Lennon

This song is sung so softly, and with such endearingly sweet emotion, it’s hard not to be swept away by the pretty picks of the guitar chords. However, underneath this Lennon lullaby are questions that speak directly to Magdalena and her process of physical and emotional transformation. The song begins with the line “Look at me.”  After Junah’s death Magdalena can no longer bear to look herself in the mirror, as her resemblance to her dead brother is just too painful, so she moves to L.A. where she begins the (damaging and damning) process of cosmetic surgery. But she soon learns (though refuses to admit) even after she’s “augmented everything” her pain is still present. The lyrics of this song: “Who am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to do?” continue to speak to Mags throughout most of the novel.

4.  “Blonde on Blonde” by Nada Surf

If So L.A. were a movie, and not uncoincidentally, I’ve written it as such, this would have to be the track playing at Linda Carter’s Malibu party. Not only does the song mention “Wonder Woman” but it also takes the California “blonde” and makes her even blonder. How, might you ask, is that even possible? Let me give you the number for Magdalena’s stylist, Jersi. If he can’t bleach you blonder, Sugar, nobody can.

 5. “L.A. River” by Honey Honey

Los Angeles, as Magdalena learns, is so much more than the stars on Hollywood Blvd. or the shops on Rodeo Drive. Beyond Beverly Hills and the beaches of Malibu and Santa Monica there is another, less iconic L.A. And as this song reminds everyone, it is equally beautiful, if not more so.

6. “Little Miss Queen of Darkness” by The Kinks

After living in Southern California for well over a decade I’m convinced that even though the movies, pictures and “reality” television shows will tell you otherwise, nothing is as it seems. But more to the point: Californians try really really hard to keep things that way. The hair, the cars, the boobs, the exceptionally high heels… they are all a part of a huge yet-to-be-produced-film called: Hide Everything.  And to be “So L.A.” is to belong to this material culture. When considering Magdalena and her obsession with materialism I first went to Madonna’s “Material Girl,” but I think The Kinks explore the emotional damage of this showy lifestyle better when they sing: “Although she looked so happy,/ There was sadness in her eyes. / And her curly false eyelashes / Weren’t much of a disguise. / And her bright and golden hair, / Was not all that it might seem. / Little miss queen of darkness / Dances sadly on.”

 7. “Pale Blue Eyes” by The Velvet Underground

This song is a love note from Magdalena to all the men in the book. To Ricky it is an explanation: “Sometimes I feel so happy,/ Sometimes I feel so sad. / Sometimes I feel so happy,/But mostly you just make me mad.” To Puck, it is her apology and her pleading, “If I could make the world as pure and strange as what I see,/I’d put you in the mirror,/ I put in front of me.” To Quentin, it is an invitation: “It was good what we did yesterday./ And I’d do it once again./ The fact that you are married,/ Only proves, you’re my best friend./ But it’s truly, truly a sin.” To Junah it is a swan song. A goodbye in the way only music can speak: “Thought of you as my mountain top,/ Thought of you as my peak./ Thought of you as everything,/ I’ve had but couldn’t keep./ Linger on, your pale blue eyes.” I’ve loved this song for more years than I care to admit and yet it never tires. Every time I hear Lou Reed’s musical whisper across my speakers I yearn for the run-down Berkeley loft of my early-twenties. I blame the tambourine.

The Riq, is widely Used in the Arabic Music

8.  “Blues Run The Game” by Laura Marling

As every woman eventually learns, you can only run so far before the cities run out and start to become one in the same. Magdalena runs from Lodi to Berkeley to Los Angeles to the Beverly Hills Hotel to escape who she was and the memory of Junah. However, there’s only so much room service a girl can take before the lonely sets in. Even with Quentin’s occasional company, life at the Beverly Hills Hotel begins to break Magdalena’s “Hollywood gloss” as she realizes that no amount of whisky, gin or room service, will save her, nor will it bring her beloved Junah back. “When I’m not drinking, baby,/ You are on my mind,/ When I’m not sleeping, honey,/ Well you know you’ll find me crying.”

9. “Stuck In Lodi” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

So I know I promised a few days ago, when I began this project, that I was going to avoid the “cliché” but when you’re writing a book about a town as small as Lodi and it just so happens that there is also a fairly well known song about that same said town, well, you kind of have to include it. Especially when, near the end of the book Magdalena really does find herself “stuck in Lodi. Again.”

 10.  “Everybody’s Gotta Live” by Arthur Lee

Hearing this song was a turning point for me. And equally important, it was a turning point for the book. I was deep into writing the pages of Magdalena’s depression, writing the worst and most despicable parts about her. When you’re doing dark writing like this it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the anger and the despair. I was struggling to write the scene where Mags comes to a resolution and forgives herself for Junah’s death, but I just couldn’t get the words out. A friend sent me this song and like Arthur Lee says, “Everybody’s gotta live and everybody’s gotta die.” Accepting Junah’s death allows Magdalena to live. She just has to “know the reason why.”

11. “Our Lips Are Sealed” by The Go-Go’s

Return to the Valley of The Go-Go'sThis song is spiritual for me. Especially when paired with the video. There’s something that’s just, well, so L.A. about it. Convertibles with their tops down, girls who are insanely beautiful, but not in a manufactured way (e.g. L.A. in the early 80’s and not 2012) and dancing, fully clothed, in a public fountain in Beverly Hills. For me, this is Magdalena before Junah died: self-confident and joyful, and it is Magdalena in Take Six, which is not in the printed version of the book.  Splashing in a public fountain while singing with a “hell-if-I-care-who-sees-me” attitude is where I hope Magdalena’s headed, off the page, after the book ends.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s