Friday, March 12, 2010

Seven Songs: Song 2 - "Santa Monica" by Everclear

For most of my pre-pubescent to early pubescent life I was immersed firmly in the music of my parents. Sure, I once convinced my parents to buy me a Vanilla Ice tape ("Those lyrics are horrible!") and was sorta-kinda into really gay club music (Technotronic, Right Said Fred) and gangsta rap (Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg), but I didn't have much emotional attachment to it. Aside from The Beatles -- and my feelings for it -- it was all Beach Boys and Herman's Hermits for me.

At 14 years old I had nothing music-wise to call my own. As a shy kid who mostly lived inside my own head -- as a grown man I still do most of the time -- it was imperative that something could speak for me. For all intents and purposes I had no voice.

/sidetrack time

This brings me to one of my favorite stories my dad told me about me.

I was a quiet little boy -- ya fuckin' think -- all of 2 or 3 years old and my parents were visiting with my dad's mom and his uncle. This is paraphrased because it was over 25 years ago, and I couldn't possibly remember it.

Me: /plays with alphabet blocks on the floor.
My dad: He doesn't talk much yet. That's not normal, is it?
Uncle Donnie: It'll come. Maybe he just doesn't have anything to say.

I smile every time I think about that little story.

/end sidetrack

Well, I discovered "alternative" rock radio in the 8th grade. I loved Nirvana (more sidetrack: my dad yelled at me when he saw the booklet for Nevermind with Kurt Cobain flipping off the camera; I thought that was awesome) and Oasis and the Smashing Pumpkins. And then there was Everclear.

I dared not ask for the album that first year -- in fact I bought Sparkle and Fade at a used CD store on my own -- because of song titles like "You Make Me Feel Like a Whore" and "My Sexual Life." But I loved the hell out of that album. It was just music to me at that point, but I still loved it.

Then I started high school. A public school. In a town I had lived in for all of a year and a half. I was optimistic, but I was also scared out of my mind. Still being shy and voiceless, being that proverbial fish out of water, I needed an anthem. I needed something to describe perfectly how I felt. I found "Santa Monica."

Say what you will about Everclear, but Art Alexakis knows his way around a hook. Those opening chords kicked in and I was taken away to my own little place. The first two verses represented my ticket out of Cudahy. I didn't hate suburban life as much as I hated being thrown in with a bunch of people I didn't know. It didn't help, being me, not being able to strike up a conversation with people. In September of 1996, I would have given just about anything to take "my big black boots and an old suitcase" and "find myself a new place."

And then that chorus. Jesus Christ that chorus influenced my worldview, and still does, as sad as that may seem:

We can live beside the ocean
Leave the fire behind
Swim out past the breakers
Watch the world die

Aside from the obvious angst in those lines, he does start it off with "we." Much like imagining myself being held to "With A Little Help From My Friends," I imagined swimming out past the breakers of Lake Michigan, finding some non-existent island with someone, anyone (hopefully a girl, though) to spend the rest of my days with, watching the world die before our eyes. She would soothe the pain of every pretty girl that would sneer at me -- of course, I never would have the courage or confidence to counter that, but what's the difference now? -- and every jock asshole that would make fun of me. Damn, the solution seemed so simple then.

That chorus is great, no doubt, but the couplet at the end of the song brings it all home. If there are two lines in all of 90's rock that I would have to pick as my favorite, I would be hard-pressed to pick something other than this:

I just want to feel some sunshine
I just want to find some place to be alone

In those high school days, it would take me away from those aforementioned sneering girls and laughing jocks; today it's a celebrity-obsessed culture; it's a bickering political wasteland; it's the guy with a high-paying job that he loves, who consumes things just to consume, obtains things just to obtain. I know I can't be bothered to just let go and have a good time -- this much I've known for years -- but I sure as hell can be bothered not to be deluded into thinking this world isn't just puppy dogs and rainbows.

Don't get me wrong, though. "Santa Monica" is far from a downer for me. It makes me feel wonderful every time I hear it. It gets my head bobbing -- and my fist pumping for the 'place to be alone' line -- whenever it comes on. It reminds me -- despite all of the confusion and hurt and hate -- of a time much simpler then the present. Then again with a present full of economic uncertainty, bitter political partisanship, soulless advertisers, pop music based on image (I'm looking at you, Lady Gaga) not songcraft, and reality television, who wouldn't want to swim out past the breakers and watch the world die?

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