RICKIE LEE JONES was living in a house facing a three-way intersection on Sunset Boulevard, and sometimes she'd sit on the lawn and watch the street life roll west like a sooty river looking for the sea.
"There were all these people driving in from wherever to look at the ocean, and it reminded me of when I was a kid living in Arizona and my family would drive to visit my Uncle Bob in Pomona and we would always pile in the car and go look at the ocean. It's what you do."
Living on Sunset, she studied the faces of these day-trippers as well as her neighbors, and she mulled the difference between the glamorous Los Angeles on the postcards and the sun-weathered street reality. It would all come together in her mind in a song called "A Second Chance."
Summertime and everything is sweet
Walking barefoot to the Circle K
On the burning street
Summertime and everything's on fire
This town is a drive-by
Whole Inland Empire
"I love that name: 'Inland Empire.' There's nothing very empirical and imperial about it. You can think of the men who named it and how hopeful they were that it would help their financial empires. So much of Los Angeles is camps of poor people. We're all pioneers here trying to make a place real, but so much of it is so poor."
Jones said that for her, Los Angeles is still the one Raymond Chandler wrote about, a throne on a trapdoor, a place promising everything and nothing at all for dreamers and cynical vagabonds. "It's still Chandler's L.A., with hillbillies in the orange groves, bad-behaved sisters of the wealthy running with down-and-out actresses." That sense of bedlam and threat also hovers in "A Second Chance."
Summertime and everything is chill
Cops and gangsters cruising
Everybody's dressed to kill
Summertime and everything is cool
In the halfway house for
By the school
Jones wasn't sure where the song and its gritty travelogue would end. Finally, what came to her was an old Steely Dan album title that helped her sum up the surrender to escapism: "I've got nothing to say, as you count down to ecstasy, count down to ecstasy." But even with all the dark tinges, Jones loves Los Angeles and its rivers of people. "In New York, there are no quiet places. That's why I don't mind driving here. The solitude can be helpful. I do a lot of praying and a lot of thinking. And I know the freeways like the back of my hand."
-- Geoff Boucher