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‘Celluloid Heroes’ The Kinks|1972

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?) and up through N.W.A.'s slightly less rosy “Straight Outta Compton,” 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’ll look at a SoCal-related song, old or new, and check its cultural compass points.

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LIKE so many English rockers in the early 1970s, Ray Davies of the Kinks felt compelled to move to Los Angeles, but instead of a canyon mansion, he took a small apartment off Hollywood Boulevard. He became fascinated with aging former actors who “still played the part” despite threadbare lives and spotlights gone cold.

“I saw what a poetically tragic place it is,” he says. “It’s all there. It’s all on that street. You could be so successful one day and completely forgotten the next. The poison chalice: fame.”

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The famously wry Davies also looked down on the Walk of Fame and found a song. “Here is a place that celebrates stars, but then you can walk right on them.”

That led to one of rock’s saddest and most thoughtful anthems and its chorus:

“You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard

Some that you recognize, some that you’ve hardly even heard of

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People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame

Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain.”

The song is rock’s map to the stars. It cautions pedestrians not to step on Bela Lugosi because “he’s liable to turn and bite,” and it notes that even covered in garbage, “George Sanders would still have style” and that Marilyn Monroe “should have been made of iron or steel / but she was only made of flesh and blood.” Davies notes that character actor Sanders was a suicide victim. “He’s the man who killed himself and left a note saying he was bored. Think about that. You know, the song really just wrote itself.”

-- Geoff Boucher

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