‘Santa Monica’ Everclear |1995
TAKE New York, remember Paris or sing of Chicago, but don’t ever forget that Southern California is the leading landscape of pop-music dreamers. From the days when Bing Crosby crooned of the San Fernando Valley as a giddy heaven on Earth (how’s that going?) to N.W.A’s slightly less rosy “Straight Outta Compton” and beyond, the lyrics on the radio have long reminded us that Southern California -- for better or worse -- is best mapped in lyrics. In the SoCal Songbook, we look at a SoCal-related song, old or new, and check its cultural compass points.
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s apathy. Art Alexakis, the songwriter and singer of Everclear, is absolutely not apathetic when it comes to Santa Monica. He wrote these lyrics, which became singalong lines to one of the biggest L.A. songs of the 1990s:
I don’t wanna be the bad guy
I don’t wanna do your sleepwalk
I just wanna see some palm trees
I will try and shake away this disease.
He actually wrote “Santa Monica” in Oregon during a landlocked midnight walk. He was raw and restless, a few years into recovery from drug addiction but still finding it hard to wear his own skin. He had grown up on the seediest edge of Santa Monica, in a cinder-block housing project that left him with bruises of every kind. Still, memories of the pier and tide spoke to him in ways that he never expected.
“The only time I felt really calm was when I was near the ocean, near the waves. I was feeling homesick or something like it,” he says. The girl in the song, well, there really wasn’t one, it was Alexakis singing to himself “and everyone that broke my heart and every heart I broke.”
The surge in interest in “alternative” music made “Santa Monica” a monster hit, and it remains an anthem for the scruffy thinkers who find the surf more salty than sleek. “I used to go out and have so much fear because I didn’t know what was beneath me out there in the dark water,” Alexakis says. “I was scared. But I miss it.” The song (which never actually mentions Santa Monica) is sunny optimism caught in a Pacific undertow.
We can live beside the ocean
Leave the fire behind
Swim out past the breakers
Watch the world die.
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