One of my all time favorite songs. Every time I hear it, it’s for the first time. It’s on my list of timeless songs. There were many hits from 1964 – 1966 that have that quality. A soulful version of California Dreaming is sung by Johnny Rivers, a great artist who made the Whiskey-A-Go-Go on Sunset Boulevard the place to be for rock bands of the mid-sixties and later. River’s rendition might even be better than the M&P hit. As far as Los Angeles groups of that period, I liked The Turtles, but not The Doors. The Righteous Brothers, but not the Byrds. The late ’70’s Eagles hit Hotel California remains timeless. The ’64 up tempo organ-heavy hit California Sun by the Riviera’s was a signature California song. The Beach Boys, with world-wide fame and a slew of hits, never did much for me. Nor did Jan & Dean. The first time I heard California Dreaming, I loved it. It wasn’t like the other songs about California of that time. It had soul, mystery in the winds and bass and great vocals. It had darkness and light, lament and hope.
California Dreaming played on Harold Blankley’s car radio in February, 1966 while three art students were their way to Chico’s Nightclub to paint a Batman mural in Belmar, New Jersey. The song immediately connected with me and touched a buried desire to see what California was about. A state that had to be better – way better – than where I came from. Mount Vernon, New York was concrete and predictable. Parochial and familiar and as good a place as any to tie on a drunk for 14 years. Not any different than ten thousand other towns in the east.
While I was now in Harold’s car in a nice suburban area of northern New Jersey, an area visually way better than Mount Vernon, California, that giant mysterious place, that place you saw on TV in cop shows like Dragnet and a hundred other TV dramas, and game shows like Truth or Consequences, “from television City in Hollywood, starring Bob Barker”, that place three thousand (as in ‘on the west coast baby’) miles away, that place forever over the horizon where dreams ripen like avocados, that place with palms and mountains and beaches and deserts and white building with red tiled roofs, that place of Hollywood scandals going back to the ’20’s, had to be better, infinitely better, than even… New Jersey!. California was another hemisphere, another planet, another mind. Everything was different there!
All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey. I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day. I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A. California Dreaming on such a winter’s day.
Fourteen years later the 747 intercom bellowed “Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seat belts. We have started our descent and will arrive in Los Angeles in fifteen minutes. Temperature in the city of Angels is 73 degrees. Enjoy your stay in LA.” I looked out the window and saw the red orange rooftops surrounded by green and rust-red and dotted with pools that glistened azure blue. California Dreaming is becoming a reality.
While I eventually saw an LA that the The Momma’s and Papa’s perhaps weren’t singing about, I never stopped loving the city. I guess I liked the black and white version of LA too. Its history, it’s architecture, Venice Beach, Santa Monica, the Olympic Auditorium, Hollywood, Culver Studios and MGM/Sony Studios. And hundreds of streets and places they never made a postcard of. The open-24-hours Googie-style (which Aldos Huxley marveled at) restaurants like Zucky’s and Ships. The Retro neon signage everywhere. The eccentric and faded glory Victorian houses, so perfectly incongruous in neighborhoods well past their prime. The magnificent pastel art deco buildings. While I scorned the tree-lined streets of Mount Vernon, I could easily forgive any street in Los Angeles.
And that was just Los Angeles.
California was once anticipation and excitement, youthful and timeless. But the California Culture is dying now. A slow, agonizing death by invasion, taxation and regulation. The culture that was created over the past 120 years or so, has given way to a State sanctioned illegal invasion from the south, from Mexico and Central America. It has given way to another kind of invasion from the bureaucratic halls of Sacramento. The dream has been hijacked by regulators and social engineers and elitists who know what’s best for everyone. The cultural/social transformation of California is now in high gear, and California Dreaming has become a California Nightmare for more and more. Some claim
California was stolen from Mexico with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe.
True or not, the State will return to Mexico, along with all of its inherent problems of poverty, corruption and gang violence.
In the not to distant future, California will be constituted of perhaps 10% wealthy independents and elite bureaucrats and 90% poor. Middle class Euro-Americans and other middle class racial groups, blacks included, have been leaving for at least 20 years: to Washington, Oregon, Utah, Arizona and Colorado for a variety of reasons. They take with them the creative energy and culture-building instincts that made the state great and the envy of the world. That’s why this song is actually realer to me now than ever before. Because.
All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey…
If this piece offends anyone, feel free to unfriend me or better yet, respond. However, I expect to be called all kinds of names from thoughtless, emotion-driven easily led individuals who cringe from the responsibility of individual thought while finding it much easier to think the way the State and Media wants them to think. They remain the most bigoted individuals, for they deny truth when it infringes on their world view or is convenient and expedient.
*Cannot forget P.F. Sloan, who wrote many great mid-sixties hits, including You Baby by the Turtles and Eve of Destruction by Barry McQuire.