Sunshine, palm trees, beautiful beaches, girls with bikinis, and boys standing on the surfboards…all these elements could constitute a typical picture of the attractive beach. For a long time, Los Angeles not only attracts people with its world-class film-making factory Hollywood, but also bring in tourists with its ‘coastal paradise’ (Kun, 185). However, the life to a resident in Los Angeles is not as light as the seaside heaven that has been advertised through media all over the world.
There is no doubt that music is one of the most important and fundamental aspects of human life. Music plays an important role in almost any aspect, such as being multi-billion dollar businesses in the entertainment industry, acting as healing treatment in the medical field, and taking a significant part in our ordinary life. As the prominent poet and educator Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote, “Music is the universal language of mankind”, we can tell music just like an invisible bridge that provides a way for us to communicate with each other or express our feelings. In “Los Angeles is Singing” by Josh Kun, Josh Kun also stated that “Songs are handshakes and encounters, dances with strangers, and if we truly get lost in them, they become passports, luggage, and moving trucks” (Kun, 183). For him, the music is not just a communication tool but more like a network that connects different people to different places. Throughout his article, he also questions about the relationship between music and places: “Is it the place that creates the music, or the music that creates the place?” (Kun, 182) This question can be answered both ways that they have an influence on each other. A place could provide inspiration to songwriters while the music could enrich a place by different perspectives from the writers.
Surf music is an essential part of showing the utopia side of Los Angeles. It’s such a relaxing life surfing the waves on a warm sunny day and leaving the work and troubles aside. Surf culture was first popularized in southern California and the 1960s was the golden age of surfing. Thanks to the mass media, surf culture was heavily promoted all over the world. What’s more, Catchy surf music takes this culture even further. ‘Surf City’, the first surf song to reach number-one hit on national record charts (Keith, 39), was first recorded by Jan and Dean, the forerunner of vocal surf music style. Starting with the vocal hook “two girls for every boy” and moving into the harmonies and chord progressions, this light song provides a cheerful vibe that brings the listeners into a happy surf city where people’s lives are easy and delightful. The lyrics “And we're goin' to Surf City, gonna have some fun, now” and “You know they're either out surfin' or they got a party growin'” indicate the hedonism life the residents have. It depicts a ‘coastal paradise’ where locals either playing with the waves, sunbathing on the beach, or having beach party all day long.
Surf culture and the idea of ‘people all having a good time in Los Angeles’ have been spread all over the world and Dean Torrence even helped Huntington Beach to be officially nicknamed Surf City, USA (Michael). Surf culture is shared and enjoyed within people who do it for fun, or people who turned it into a lifestyle and even non-surfers who are willing to purchase things that related to surf culture from equipment to movies and fashion clothing, even energy drinks could be popular. Surf culture is more like a spirit that is loved by people from surfer to residents in island cities than the surfing activity. It’s a spirit and a dream that we can escape from busy work and the hectic world, throw ourselves into the enjoy-this-moment life, and be a more spiritual existence living by the sea.
Except for the surf culture, ‘tourist beach hotels’ is another attraction for the outsiders. The song ‘Hotel California’, which was released in 1977, is the title track of the same-name album from a band named Eagles shows us how Los Angeles lure people to come. Driving “on a dark desert highway”, “a shimmering light” from the California hotel was seen. Like the feeling from people who don't know Los Angeles very well but decide to stay there, anxiety and hesitation rose the question: “This could be heaven or this could be Hell”. In such a dark night, a sweet girl “lit up a candle” and “showed me the way”. Los Angeles has not only one sweet girl but a bunch of sweet girls enticing people from all over the world like the film industry Hollywood, the bustling and lively nightlife with glitz and glamour, and a rich culture with numerous museums. Boys and girls were singing and dancing in this sweet summer night. Dwellers have a great time living in Los Angeles. Hotel California was “such a lovely place”, that the night man said: “We are programmed to receive. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”. The Eagles themselves defined the song as their 'interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles” (Rolling Stone, 2011).
However, the happy time on the beach is not for everyone. In the guidebook ‘A People’s Guide to Los Angeles’, Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng uncover the less-known history about the dystopia part of Los Angeles. In 5.8 – Malibu’s public beaches, the famous Malibu coastline which we’ve seen multiple times in movies and television shows has nearly 20 miles lined with private buildings including the houses of celebrities. The buildings “block both public access to the beaches and scenic views from the highway”, left only around 7 miles for the public. As a result of more than 20 years of legal battles, there are around five access points per mile. All the accesses called the Geffen Accessway is now maintained by a nonprofit group. Nonetheless, the rich seem to assert the public beaches are their processions. Some of the access points are illegally locked; some have posting signs claiming the beaches are not for the public; some have private security guards preventing the beachgoers to enjoy the Malibu beaches (Pulido, et. al. 210).
No matter the surf culture or the beach hotels, superiority of the climate easily drives a common stereotypical perception that people are happier in Los Angeles. Outsiders tend to believe the endless summer days bring up happy Angelenos. The song ‘California Dreamin’’ by The Mamas & The Papas is a little simple song showing the longing to be in California. The lyrics depict a picture of a person who lives in a cold place missing the sunny days in California and thinking it would be great if he was in Los Angeles. The contraction between a cold winter day with “brown leaves” and “grey sky” and the “safe and warm” Los Angeles makes the eager of living in Los Angeles more intense. This song also plays in the 1994 Hong Kong film ‘Chungking Express’. A girl works in a store everyday saving money to escape from crowded Hong Kong. She wants to travel around the world and the first place she wants to go is California. It really shows how California and Los Angeles attract people with warm sunny days. It is a place of hope for people who live in struggles; it is a place with endless summer for people who can’t stand the cold; it is a place of everything great for people all around the world.
Just like a country won’t have rich people but not citizens struggling in poverty, having fun all day long is not the life for everyone. Working-class might not have money and time for surfing or having a vacation at a beach hotel and sunbathe in Malibu, for they have to make a living working day and night. In the song ‘Hell Looks a Lot Like L.A.’ by Less Than Jake, the writer describes a feeling of ignored and bored living in Los Angeles. For a “19 and lost” boy having a “fast food job” need to “work 8 to 5”, the “endless grind” makes his mind “vacant”. Attracted by Los Angeles’s glamorous, a teenager “moved down from the north and told herself she'd try”, but only felt every day is the same. These youngsters can’t enjoy the appealing sunny days on the beach because they need to work in order to make a living.
Surf music and songs about ‘tourist beach hotels’ packaged Los Angeles as a seaside paradise and help to promulgate a happy sunny life with no work and stress in Los Angeles. What’s more, the mass media and technologies spread the ‘good life in Los Angeles’ even further. However, it’s not realistic for everyone to have happy beach time every day. Besides, the obstacles set from the wealth gap could discouraging the beachgoers. Life could be hard and boring for the working class. Los Angeles may not be seen as what tourists think in the eye of Angelenoes. The fantastic Los Angeles climate doesn’t just bring the happy summer time but also large homeless populations (Leins, 2019). High living expenses and the terrible traffic sometimes push people away from Los Angeles. As Kun stated, “songs can orient us to where we are, ground us in a sense of home, but they can also help us imagine where we want to go and reimagine just what home can mean” (Kun, 183), music shows the utopia part to the outsiders while represents the love and hate from Angelenoes.