Singing the Bad-Air Blues : 'Daydreams in Traffic' Songwriter Enlisted in Smog War

Times Staff Writer

Where governmental mandate and the threat of lung disease have failed, a tune might help.

That, at least, is the hope of the Ventura County Clean Air Alliance, which is to unveil today a plaintive ballad designed to rally drivers to such smog-fighting measures as car-pooling, proper automotive maintenance, mass transit, and simply staying at home.

The alliance, a group of business people and air pollution officials, commissioned Simi Valley songwriter Richard Klender, the composer of "Dear Mr. Jesus," a wildly successful song about child abuse, to similarly convert smog into song.

The result is "Daydreams in Traffic," a driver's lament about fouled air:

Lost here on this boulevard, looking for some space

Some rattletrap just cut me off, to move up one more place

The skyline of the city used to be so clear

Now it's filled with angry words, and hazy atmosphere.

If motorists are in no position to dance to it, they can grind their gears on every other beat as Klender pleads for greater awareness about air pollution:

Daydreams in traffic, please think about our air

Daydreams in traffic, please tell someone you care

Before it slips away

Or we'll be out of the blue someday.

The grim message and doleful tone might not appear to be the catchy stuff of the Top 40, but neither was "Dear Mr. Jesus," which features a 6-year-old girl singing "a story about a little girl beaten black and blue."

Recorded three years ago, the song languished in Christian record stores until it caught fire in 1987. The album containing the song sold 30,000 copies in six weeks. No singles were available, but a pressing of 20,000 was sold out in advance. Broadcast on radio stations around the world, the song was the subject of news reports on the major television networks and in national magazines.

"It's not that everything I write is gospel truth," said Klender, "but I do think people need to hear something deeper than 'shake your booty.' " Klender said he does not necessarily expect "Daydreams in Traffic" to enjoy the same global popularity as "Mr. Jesus," although it, too, bears an important message.

"I never realized that so much of the air pollution problem involved individuals," he said. "I thought it was mainly caused by big business."

Nearly half of Ventura County's ozone--a key component of smog--comes from motor vehicles, smog experts say. The alliance's smog-reduction campaign--which will also include commercials and public opinion surveys--is primarily aimed at drivers.

"The song can really touch people while they're in the act, while they're driving their cars," said Madeline Murphy, the Oxnard publicist who is an alliance spokeswoman. "We could have approached it from the standpoint of writing a jingle, but this will have a lot more impact."

Murphy said radio stations in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara will be asked to broadcast "Daydreams" if it is well-received in Ventura County.

But at this point the warmth of that reception is impossible to predict.

"The lyric is very nice, and the music is very pleasing to the ear," said Anthony Edwards, program director of KBBY-FM and KOGO-AM, sister radio stations in Ventura. "I'd love to have the opportunity to air it, but it's difficult to make a wholehearted commitment to it.

" You just don't know how the audience will respond--it could fizzle and die just like a hundred pieces of music a month."

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