Tonight I’m flying to California to visit family and friends for a few days. In honor of that, here are some California songs from my music library (please note the absence of “Hotel California,” a.k.a. The Song That Goes On Forever And If You Play It On The Jukebox I Will Scowl At You). In a nod to Rob in High Fidelity, they’re ordered roughly autobiographically – that is, chronologically in the order that I heard them (rather than chronologically in the order in which they were released) – with the exception of “California” by Stroke 9, which is the last track on any mix it’s on. (That’s the rule. “There are a lot of rules.” -Rob from High Fidelity again.)
California Sky – Unwritten Law
Californication – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Hell Looks a Lot Like L.A. – Less Than Jake
From California – The New Amsterdams
Sleepy California – Her Space Holiday
Los Angeles is Burning* – Bad Religion
To California – Mighty Mighty Bosstones
California – Stroke 9
*This song inspired one of the most awesome phone messages I’ve ever received, and which I still have saved: the same friend who introduced me to Bad Religion and punk music in general called as she was driving through LA during one of the wildfires there, just to tell me that “Los Angeles is burning.” Which raises the question, which other song titles could come true like that?
Of course, the above mix of songs doesn’t even begin to make a dent in all the music made about California. The list of “California” books below similarly does not begin to scratch the surface. And I’m not counting Vegas.
Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
The ultimate California driving book.
Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon
Totally groovy, dude.
The Magician’s Assistant, Ann Patchett
Takes place partly in LA, partly in Nebraska, but I never miss an opportunity to plug Ann Patchett, and this book especially.
Bright Shiny Morning, James Frey
I hate to list this and I absolutely do not recommend it, but it is a California book.
A Dirty Job/Bloodsucking Fiends/You Suck/The Stupidest Angel, Christopher Moore
Funny, especially A Dirty Job. Set mostly in the Bay Area.
You Don’t Love Me Yet, Jonathan Lethem
Los Angeles, music, young people.
You Or Someone Like You, Chandler Burr
Great book club book, great for discussions about Hollywood, literature, religion, etc.
The Tortilla Curtain, T.C. Boyle
A heartbreaking story about an immigrant couple, if I remember correctly – I read it a long time ago.
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Starts on the east coast, ends in California. Better than The Grapes of Wrath, if you ask me, which you pretty much are by reading this.
We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, Marc Spitz, Brendan Mullen
I haven’t actually read this but it seems to be the companion to Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, which is New York-centric.
The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, Randy Shilts
The movie is good too.
Kind of an eclectic list. Feel free to post your favorite California songs/books/movies (I’m not even going there, though I will say the first one that comes to mind is The Italian Job, because of the Mini-Cooper car chase through LA) in the comments section.