Saturday, April 25, 2009

Series of Dreams #2 - Santa Ana Wind

"This is a harsher California, haunted by the Mojave just below
the mountains…devastated by the hot dry
Santa Ana wind that comes down through the passes at
100 miles an hour and whines through the Eucalyptus
windbreaks and works on the nerves. October is a bad
month for the wind, the month when breathing is difficult
and the hills blaze up spontaneously. There has been no rain since
April. Every voice seems a scream. It is the season of suicide,
divorce and prickly dread, whenever the wind blows."
Joan Didion

Thus begins Joan Didion's brilliant and plague drenched evocation of the San Bernardino Valley, in her essay "Some Dreamer's of the Golden Dream," from the collection "Slouching towards Bethlehem." Something is working on somebody's nerves; somebody's gonna die. In this case it's a husband torched to death in a Volkswagen by his wife, who's been sleeping with the local car dealer. It's Didion's masterpiece and owes much to the "In Cold Blood" style of non-blinking, neo-impressionistic reportage on murder; the style that came into vogue with Truman Capote in the 1960's. Didion's essay takes place in California in 1964, the country of: "teased hair and Capris and the girls to whom all of life's promise comes down to a waltz length white wedding dress and the birth of a Kimberley or Sherry or a Debbi and a Tijuana divorce and a return to hairdresser's school." In sentence after sentence she nails these people to a common cross of flaunted religious ignorance, and the sweltering boredom of life in the great white middle class L.A. suburb. Too much is never enough. And then there's that wind.
It was Didion's opening focus on the Santa Ana wind which got me to thinking of Los Angeles and the sort of cursed Raymond Chandler country I grew up in. That wind was always coming from the Gila Monster hills; beyond Death Valley…and it would bring revenge upon those Catholic padres who built the mission system on the bones of the Mission Indians. Landscape tones: Forest fires, earthquakes, tidal waves, Jehovah's Witnesses, billion dollar glass churches, Amy Semple McPherson weirdness, and my Iowa-bred, horse-trader father playing five card stud in his Texaco gas station. Fast forward to Gram Parson's singing: "This old earthquake's gonna leave me in the poorhouse…" And here comes of "the "Lord's burning rain." And then Warren Zevon, Tom Waits and Randy Newman with their catalogues of Armageddon-inspired song poetry, which twisted Bukowski and Chandler with Stephen Foster, Harry Partch and Scriabin. Armageddon music for sure. California style. How about: "Smoking in bed can sure burn your house down….Especially if you're there with somebody's wife…"
("Building Fires by Dan Penn and Jim Dickenson) Seems appropriate.
These are the tones set for the song: "Santa Ana Wind." Number two song on the coming record. Joey and John of Calexico established the 6/8 time and the amphetamine flamenco groove with Tijuana trumpets by Jacob Valenzuela. Welcome to L.A. ! Gretchen Peters sings the Emmy Lou and Gram thing chillingly. We have our little taste of that ill wind which Joan Didion was speaking of…that wind which has been working on my nerves for a half century. This is San Bernardino drive-in movie music, and the hills above that big ole screen are burning with fake golden crosses; shining back towards the Banyan trees of Angel town.

(Song #2 in a series of sketches on the 12 songs on the coming record "Blood and Candle Smoke.)


editor said...

I left California 16 years ago this October in the wake of riots and fires.

The day we pulled out those Santa Ana winds kicked up a fire that nearly burned down Sierra Madre. I watched the news that night and saw a reporter standing in front of the Catholic Church across the street from our old house, the cross on the top haloed in flame.

I've never regretted leaving... and yet...

Somehow those brown hills folded and bent by earthquakes still feel like home. There's something weirdly compelling about LA that sometimes pulls at me, makes me feel like I never left.

I can still feel that Devil Wind.

Saddle Tramp said...

Well I just got into town about an hour ago
Took a look around, see which way the wind blow . . .

I see your hair is burnin'
Hills are filled with fire

If they say I never loved you
You know they are a liar . . .

Motel money murder madness
Let's change the mood from glad to sadness . . .

-Doors / L.A. Woman

Last October I was at the Chino Valley Tank Wash on
Euclid Ave. just up the road from where the murderess and fallen angel, Lucille Miller took involuntary residence in what used to be known as Frontera. As I was waiting for my tanker to be washed I looked out at the Palm Trees twisting in a dirty wind. Hell was brewing. Debris filled the skies. I had to get up north to reload. Chased out by the Santa Ana Wind I left out and headed up to the 210 Frwy and coming into Pasadena discovering the 210 was closed west of the 134
Frwy split due to the Little Tujunga Canyon fire that was blazing. Took the 134 to the Golden State Frwy where smoke rolled over Simi Valley from the Santa Susana Mountains where fortunately the wind had shifted allowing IH-5 to be reopened so I lucked out in getting over Grapevine Hill and on up through B Town and the valley.
Just another narrow escape from the Lost Angel . . .

Like Townes Van Zant, don't ask me where I am from. My affairs with Los Angeles have been on and off, first coming in 1962 from Chicago the son of a corporate itinerant. My Iowa-bred father born in Coalville, Iowa had
an iron grip, a golden heart along with the personality of Will Rogers and movie star looks. I inherited none of it. L.A. became imbued in my psyche forever even though my father transferred back to Chicago after 3-1/2 years in L.A.
much to my regret. You adapt. I did over and over with several more transfers, but L.A. stayed with me. A golden period for me; blind to all the degradation going on. The
Watts riot were an undefined anomaly to me at the time. It was orange groves and Avacado trees and exotic mysteries in the ivy tangled hidden landscape. There was also the jewish neighbor who had escaped the concentration camps and still had the Nazi inscribed number tattooed on her arm. Very dark stuff for an eight year old to be indoctrinated into. Also, dealing with the
diametrically opposed twins of climate and culture between Chicago and L.A. with L.A. having been only 1/3 of the equation. L.A. always haunted me. She was always calling me back. I returned in 1972 for an abbreviated stay not to return until 2004. I now just pass through on a regular basis but now with eyes opened to the apocalyptic landscape. Coming into Artesia on the 91 Frwy last year and looking further west seeing what looked like a mushroom cloud over downtown L.A. that was in reality the Malibu fire. For a second though . . .

" I have never seen it this bad and I have been in the business for 60 years. We could have another 1928 or 1929 situation . . . "

Paraphrased from a Cal Worthington interview on NPR today in which the L.A. icon also put in a plug for his famous dog " Spot

" Tramps like us, baby we were made to run "

-B. Springsteen / Born To Run

-saddle tramp
Via: The Flyin' Hook in Des Moines

Charlene said...

sesJust about a month ago, my three kids and I, driving to Disneyland. Only a Walmart road atlas for directions. Driving all day from El Paso. Low on diesel, and low on water bottles; we needed tylenol and batteries. We needed the corner Walgrees. Feeling like we had to stop soon or else we would be there. Los Angeles. It seemed like once we got off of I-10 we'd be lost. There was no way we'd find tylenol and batteries in Los Angeles. For sure we'd get lost in that huge town of cement and trees if we had to get off the main road. It was getting dark and it seemed like we were heading towards a big drop off where the earth would end. We had to stop soon. The sun was going down but the windmills were so cool. Hundreds, thousands maybe. Everywhere. The sky was beautiful. Orange and purple and yellow. Any exit would do, and we were getting closer and closer. The kids navigating from the Walmart map, estimating the time, I had to choose an exit or we'd be there without gas, tylenol or water for three days. So there we are at a gas station somewhere between a bunch of mountains. The wind was so strong. If you didn't park your truck the right way, the wind would slam your door shut and take off your arm if you weren't careful. I screamed at the kids to stay put. I drove from the gas pump to the door of the store because I was afraid. The wind was so strong. Finally inside, I asked the clerk, What's with the wind? It's always windy he said. Then in walked someone he knew. How could two people know each other out in the middle of all of this I thought. How could anything be normal here. I got the gas, the batteries, and the tylenol. Los Angeles now seemed safe. Anywhere seemed safe, anywhere away from that wind.

I better not ever complain about the wind in El Paso again.

I can't wait to hear the song Mr. Russell!!


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Tom,
Can't wait to Listen. Will be putting in my order as soon as it is possible in New Zealand.
Ka kite,