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.
IN song, Los Angeles is relentlessly female and typically dabs tragic perfume on its wrists. That is the case, certainly, with “Hollywood,” a shimmering, poolside ode to an imaginary girl named Holly. She came to Karl Wallinger, the Welsh auteur of the Brit-pop band World Party, through a photograph of a German model he once knew.
“She was sitting in a summer lounger wearing these 1950s clothes and she became Holly to me,” Wallinger says. “The title is a play on words -- ‘Holly would, wouldn’t she?’ -- and it’s about the place as well as the heroine and the ease in which she does just about anything.”
The air-brushed falsetto, the swoon of the synthesizers and a world-weary leer converge in the song to make it pretty and sad. Like a Nathanael West story or Dorothy Stratten’s life, it gets grimmer the further it goes into Hollywood.
“In the lifeboat, there she is setting sail
There is someone else’s dreams
There she is looking beautiful again
There she is in a mountain stream.
Holly would, wouldn’t she
Wallinger gives a wry chuckle and nods to the movie industry’s “long and deeply respectful treatment of women” as the backbone for his song but gives credit for any lyrical achievement to Rimbaud’s “A Winter Dream” and its gorgeous flirt-speak about a kiss that travels like a spider down a woman’s neck and must be searched for in the dress seams below.
In his travels to L.A., Wallinger says he has found only the “parts that are quite inviting and not the other bits.” He shrugs off any suggestion that “Hollywood” should be deconstructed too vigorously. “There’s no great point to it, no message, it’s just about a dream and a sound.” Sounds like Hollywood.
-- Geoff Boucher