Readers attempt to square the circle on ‘La-la Land,’ where everything loose ends up
I thought I had discovered a new epithet for Los Angeles the other day when I found it described as “La-la Land.” It was in a column on her visit to Los Angeles by Mimi Loomer in Atencion San Miguel, a small English-language newspaper published in San Miguel de Allende, which is in the mountains 100 miles north of Mexico City.
Loomer had made her first visit to Los Angeles after 15 years in Mexico and she found it “a shock.”
“Of course,” she said, “when in La-la Land you must see Rodeo Drive. . . . “
“La-la Land” seemed to symbolize our alleged life style, and at least, I thought, it was new.
“I believe that ‘La-la Land’ was not coined by Mimi Loomer,” writes Daniel Fredgant of Woodland Hills, who says he knows I am exacting and dedicated to the truth. “Stevie Wonder, in his early 1986 album ‘In Square Circle,’ has a song titled ‘Land of La-La,’ and the refrain makes it clear that the song is about our fair city, with Stevie and backup singers singing spirited ‘el-lays’ every few beats.
“While his syntax is different from Ms. Loomer’s, and while she quite possibly and even probably arrived at the phrase independently, I don’t know if you could truly give her credit for the epithet. In fact, Stevie may not have been the first, though I had never heard the appellation prior to hearing the song. . . . “
If I need corroboration, it comes from Jim Robinson, Latin teacher, Madison High School, San Diego, on the highest authority--his teen-age daughter. He writes: “My 13-year-old daughter, Tarlie, who knows every word to every song written since 1983, says that Mimi Loomer has not ‘added an epithet to our lexicon--La-la Land.’ She claims that Stevie Wonder recorded a song called ‘Land of La-La’ at least a year ago and that the lyrics clearly allude to your fine city. By my reckoning, this is your first mistake of 1987. I hope there are many more.”
My apologies to Stevie Wonder. By the way, does Stevie write all his own lyrics, or do I have to back up another step and give credit to his lyricist? Anyway, I am glad to add one documented epithet to the long list that have been bestowed on our city in this century.
Coincidentally, I have just rediscovered the origin of one of the oldest of Los Angeles epithets--"Double Dubuque.” It has turned up in a letter long since filed away and forgotten.
I would have guessed that Double Dubuque was of a theatrical origin. Obviously it was invented by some road show company wit who had played Dubuque and considered Los Angeles the same kind of hick town but twice as big. The letter tells me that this famous epithet, according to H. Allen Smith in “Lost in the Horse Latitudes,” was invented by the waggish Rufus Blair, a Paramount publicist, probably in the 1930s.
It is still as full of meaning and insult as any others, including those with more venom, like H. L. Mencken’s “Moronia.”
The sage of Baltimore hung that one on us in 1926 after making the obligatory train trip west and returning to assure his readers that “the whole place stank of orange blossoms.” I wish it still did.
We have also been called the Nowhere City, Forty Suburbs in Search of a City (even older than Double Dubuque), Smogville, the Fake Tomato Factory and Cuckoo Land, which was Will Rogers’ affectionate contribution.
I have a copy of “Lost in the Horse Latitudes,” and have tried to find the reference to Rufus Blair and Double Dubuque, but H. Allen Smith’s books are so insane and disorganized that you have to read the whole book to find anything, and I am not dedicated enough to do that again.
I did find a story about Rufus Blair ordering a glass of brandy from a new bartender. He gagged on it, called it unfit for human consumption and pushed it back across the bar. He ordered a whiskey instead. The bartender poured him a whiskey. He drank the whiskey and started to walk away. The bartender said, “You didn’t pay for the whiskey.” “I traded the brandy for it,” Blair said. “But you didn’t pay for the brandy,” the bartender complained. “Why should I?” Blair said. “I didn’t drink it.” He walked away, leaving the bartender to puzzle it out.
Now a man capable of that is capable, I suggest, of inventing Double Dubuque. So I consider my research closed.
Smith is not the most reliable of sources, but he also seems to nail down Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous remark about Southern California. Smith says, “I’ve not been able to find it anywhere in print, but it was recited to me as follows: ‘It is as though God had taken hold of the United States, at the tip of Maine, just as a person might take hold of a handkerchief. He lifted that one corner and began shaking it, and all the unstable elements in the country were shaken loose and deposited down in the opposite corner. That is Southern California.’ ”
The version I heard was simpler: “It’s as if someone tilted the continent to the west and everything loose slid into Los Angeles.”
H. Allen Smith always did have a tendency to exaggerate. What would you expect of a man who named a book “Lost in the Horse Latitudes” and called the first chapter “Concerning the Sex Life of Chickens”?
He gave Hollywood the kind of history it deserves.