Some people despise Los Angeles. Others have a love-hate relationship. And then there's Justin Chart, 53, who loves his native city with all his aching heart.
Nearly a year ago, Chart took his daughter to the Griffith Observatory, and they enjoyed a splendiferous day inside the museum. But the real show began when they stepped back outside and into the glorious vapor of the fading day.
"The lights were coming on and I was looking over this panoramic view, thinking, 'My God, this is the most beautiful city I've ever seen,' and I've traveled all over the world."
Chart went home to Hancock Park, picked up his guitar and "the chords started coming out."
The chords had no choice. Chart — who says he makes a decent living as a band member, studio musician and composer — was on a mission to capture the pride that swelled in his chest. He wanted to create "the official song" of Los Angeles, he said.
And we really don't have one, do we?
We know you can leave your heart in San Francisco, that Chicago is a toddlin' town, and that New York is a city that never sleeps.
But for all the great songs about Los Angeles, does it have a go-to anthem?
Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." is a contender, and Chart said he's a fan. But he adds that Newman is "kind of spoofing L.A. ... but I'm trying to promote the positive side of this city."
Mission accomplished, I'd say. Two weeks after inspiration struck, Chart had given birth to his tribute song. And he gave it a title appropriate for an anthem.
"Los Angeles the Song."
A twangy, guitar-driven intro gives way to the opening verse.
"We are a winning team. Stars and the silver screen. We come from near and far. To be with the best. We're Los Angeles. Los Angeles."
Grammy-caliber? Perhaps not. You may cheer or you may jeer. But I can guarantee one thing:
Once you hear it, you will not be able to get it out of your head.
Chart recruited some musician pals to help with the recording, then put an ad on Craigslist for a videographer. The video looks like it could have been shot from a tour bus, with the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce director behind the wheel. You get the beach, the mountains, Hollywood, Dodger Stadium, Beverly Hills. Nothing better under the sun.
And now, proud Angelenos, we get to the most amazing part of this story.
Chart's original song, along with a dance version, a Spanish version and a sort of Ricky Ricardo Latin version, have together registered — are you ready for this, Randy Newman? — more than 4 million views on YouTube. And he swears he did nothing to goose those numbers.
A YouTube version of Newman's "I Love L.A.," posted a year earlier than Chart's, has fewer than 50,000 views.
For Chart, who long ago gave up the dream of being a rock star, this is better than a million stunning sunsets, even though he hasn't made a plug nickel for his work. In fact, he's in the hole several thousand dollars for production costs, but he's not complaining. He said he was in a grocery store recently when a woman asked if he was the guy in the video.
"I think people are diggin' it," said Chart. "You gotta read these comments on YouTube. People are saying, 'Oh my gosh, I never realized how beautiful our city was.' "
Well, there isn't much of the underbelly on display, or, as some might argue, the very layers that make Los Angeles chaotically, addictively and gloriously distinct. The Watts Towers, Whittier Boulevard and the intersection of 109th and Broadway make cameos in a couple of Chart's videos, but that's about the extent of it.
Among the videos, my personal favorite is the Latin dance version, in which it looks like Albert Brooks (Chart has curly red locks) has joined a salsa band. And then there's the Spanish version of the original, which is called, "Los Angeles la Cancion." Chart said a friend helped him with his Spanish pronunciation for that number.
"I still sound like a white guy speaking Spanish," said Chart. "But I think I nailed it."
He also thought he'd made the perfect connection to get his song adopted by the city. Chart was dining at Osteria Mozza in Hollywood, and guess who he bumped into? Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
"I said, 'I wrote this song for Los Angeles.' And he said, 'You know, we need one. Can you get it to me?' "
Chart, like a lot of us, is still waiting for the mayor to come through.
One of his greatest challenges in writing the songs, said Chart, was finding anything that rhymes with Los Angeles. Arlo Guthrie found a way around that by changing the pronunciation of L.A. In his song, he's "coming into Los Ang–a–leeze, bringing in a couple of keys."
Justin "Top of the" Chart finally stumbled on his own solution: rhyming "trust" with "es," as in: "We all bring our trust, to Los Angeles," as well as the aforementioned "be with the best, in Los Angeles."
If you think you can do better, I hereby invite one and all to give it a try. Come on, it's L.A. There must be a couple hundred thousand unemployed musicians out there at any given time, looking for something to do besides drinking coffee at King's Road Cafe.
Write and record your song, post the video on YouTube and send me a link.
I promise to share the best.
In Los Angel-es.
Think you can do better? Record your attempt at an anthem that’s fit for Los Angeles, upload it to YouTube or SoundCloud and send Steve Lopez a link via email firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @latstevelopez.