Songs of a City

Cities have songs and musical genres that match each place: sometimes seasonally, sometimes geographically.

When I lived in LA, a friend of mine asked me to write for a documentary he was doing about famed Brazilian musician Laurindo Almeida. We interviewed him weeks before he died and the documentary turned into a tribute concert. The man was a poet and reminisced about how diving with sea turtles in his native Rio painted his dreams and influenced his musical style. He then moved to LA where he had lived for many years, composing for films like the Godfather.

He told me just before his death, what painted his recent dreams in LA was the freeways, and he wanted to do some kind of musical piece that spoke to that. I guessed he was referring to the cars constantly moving in every direction, reflecting light during the day, and giving off light at night. Maybe the ocean-like sound it all created.

LA does have a vibe that you can feel from the road. If LA were a song, it could be a cool jazz samba, like Laurindo Almeida was known for, or it could be a folky tale about driving 500 miles today and never leaving LA, like in the Michelle Shocked song “Come a Long Way.” I’d say depending on where you are in LA, a different song could relate: maybe the Go Go’s “We Got the Beat” for Santa Monica on a clear sunny day; some Jimmy Buffet for Marina del Rey; Joni Mitchell, CSN or Counting Crows for Laurel Canyon…

If Atlanta, where I now live, were a song it might be a rap or hip hop number by Ludacris or Usher. It could be any number of R.E.M. songs, or maybe an older southern rock number like “Champagne Jam” by the appropriately named Atlanta Rhythm Section. This song talks about partying with some “high class booze” and makes me think of the scrappy upbringing of this always growing metropolis with a chip on its shoulder.

What would your city songs be?

Music Doodle


Going Grinch

In LA, we lived one neighborhood over from a place seasonally dubbed “Candy Cane Lane.” Come December, it’s a Christmas wonderland. Cars line up for miles to drive through. I couldn’t imagine buying a house there say in July with no clue, then December 1’st you open your front door to find yourself in Whoville.

Any other time of year, it looked like any other Valley neighborhood with ranch homes, two-story Spanish redos, and garage conversions… which is what always got me: Without garages (or basements for that matter- LA doesn’t do basements) where did they store all the Christmas stuff? There were thirty-foot Santa’s, autonomatronic elf shops, working trains, and lots of smoke and mirrors. And the amazing thing was that these people did the work mostly themselves. Granted, many of them either worked in the entertainment industry, or knew people who did, so getting all the smoke and mirrors was not that difficult.

Now that we are out here in the Atlanta suburbs, it looks beautiful this time of year. There are classy white bulbs following impossible-to-reach roof peaks, giant snowflakes lit up in giant maple trees, and icicle-lights dripping down many a house. But this stuff is done by professional lighting companies, not homeowners.

Our first year here, Alex said she wanted lights out front, so I put a horizontal strand above our front porch. “Can’t you get them to follow the shape of the house?” she asked after not being too impressed with my first offering. “Well, yeah, if I had a thirty-foot ladder, a helmet, and some climbing gear,” I only half-joked while looking up at our high-peaked roof. So, I did what I thought was the next best thing and wrapped our front trees with lights as high as I could (fortunately they were still young and relatively short trees). A few hours later I proudly showed off my work. “Nice,” Alex said, but I got a whiff of patronization. “Hey, we can’t all afford a lighting crew,” I said.

We used to make fun of Candy Cane Lane. It was tacky, but I kind of miss that “do-it-yourself” spirit. In fact, after realizing I’d never be able to keep up with the Jones’ out here, I asked Alex if we could go the opposite direction and steal a page from the Candy Cane Lane playbook. There was a family there who was either really fed up, or possibly Jewish and didn’t celebrate the holiday, who simply put a Grinch in their front window and lit it up with a spotlight so it was the only thing you saw at that house, sitting amongst all the crazy colored lights and moving giant objects of a Candy Cane Lane Christmas.

We bought a Grinch and everything, but Alex said no, not going to happen. I’m keeping the Grinch just in case she changes her mind though. Better shop for a good spotlight too.



Southern Fried

Living in LA we had some of the best and most diverse food anywhere, and we are foodies so we were in heaven. In fact, Alex is such a good cook and home-stylist, that at one time I wanted to pitch a TV show called “Move Over Martha” with Alex as a younger, hipper Martha Stewart.

Moving to Atlanta, I’m sure Alex had her reservations (no pun intended) but she was quick to realize that Atlanta takes its food as seriously as any major city. Just like LA, it has trendy spots with the latest crazes, like farm-to-table; different ethnic areas with signs and menus in other languages; giant world markets like Buford Highway and Decatur Farmer’s, where regular Joes and Janes, and Joses and Juanas, can shop alongside chefs in double-breasted jackets and Crocs who are picking up last minute items for their evening menus. And of course Atlanta has southern food.

In LA, there are a few places that claim to serve southern, but they tend to lean more toward the soul aspect, or the southwest rather than southeast. Tex-Mex is good, but it’s not southern.

In Atlanta, they have southern down: They’ve got shrimp and grits; variations on anything fried, like the green tomato, and of course chicken. In LA, the meat aisle of most local grocery chains is probably half chicken, half beef. In Atlanta it is chicken 60-40, maybe 70-30.

There is great fried chicken at most good restaurants in Atlanta, like Table and Main in Roswell, but the local Kroger grocers have some that competes with all of these. The first time we ate Kroger fried chicken we were in the middle of our move, so an unfair advantage I know—Pizza Hut can almost taste gourmet after you’ve moved a thousand boxes and haven’t eaten all day—but the second and third time at Kroger was unbiasedly just as good. We were so impressed, we started using a soft ‘g’ when saying the name of the place to make it sound more fancy. “Where are you eating tonight?” our friends from LA would ask. “Krozhay,” we would say in our best French accent.

Who knows, maybe “Move over LA” will be my next TV show pitch?


Vampires in Suburbia

Morning fog lingers around trunks of giant trees wearing robes of Kudzu. Heat and moisture creep into the day on cicada-winged notes. We intermittently drive through tunnels of greenery that hide the clouded blue sky above.

Another Atlanta summer, and we were on a mission to find fabric. Yes, I said fabric. Before Alex, I don’t think I had ever stepped into a fabric store: now I know Jo-Anne and Michael by their first names.

But Alex doesn’t just settle for retail, she’s a wholesale hound in the best sense of the word. She can find the source of just about anything, and somehow finagle a deal. Granted the minimum quantities can be a problem: We have had large pallets of various things delivered to our doorstep. And in LA, we had no basement or garage to help store these things. Our Atlanta house has both…. A blessing and a curse.

The heat of the summer had turned Alex’s attention to curtains. Blackout curtains to be exact. These are the double-paneled, heavy curtains with fabric on one side, and an opaque rubberized material on the other. They keep the sun and heat out, and create a dark room at night.

I almost forgot to mention, my wife’s a vampire; or at least she has the habits of one. She cannot sleep in a room that lets in any outside light. Now I have become light-sensitive as well. I guess you adapt to those around you? That, or she bit me.

We found the fabric store in Marietta. It was a little white southern house in the shadow of a gigantic billboard that looked bigger than the store itself. We parked under the billboard for shade. “Welcome to Marietta,” I said to Alex.

Inside, the sound was muffled by rolls and rolls of fabric, arranged by color. We passed pink girly prints and red brothel-looking material, light blue baby themes and darker blue nauticals, and found our way to the beige section. I know beige sounds boring but, probably Restoration Hardware influenced, it is our base color—that and grays.

Alex grabbed a pair of scissors from the end of a roll and started cutting the stuff right there in the aisle. “Uh, honey,” I said looking around, “are you supposed to be cutting up the inventory?” “This is a sample swatch. Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing,” she said. And I guess she was right: We walked out of there with enough sample swatches for a quilt, and no one seemed to blink.

Making curtains is more work than I thought. I mean just the math involved to make sure you get enough material to cover the job is hard enough for me, but then there’s the cutting and pinning of the material, the pleating, the sewing of course, and the hardware. Fortunately, Alex did everything but the hardware. I can handle hardware.

The first night with our new curtains, we slept like…vampires. We had no clue how late it was when we woke up the next morning until I pushed back the curtains and was almost blinded by the bright summer sun.

The next night before bed, Alex noticed me putting something in my nightstand. “What’s that?” she asked. “Sunglasses!” I said. “Welcome to the brood,” she replied with a smile.