From 1995 to 1999 I lived in the beautiful city of roses, Portland, Oregon. This was just as the Pacific Northwest was taking off, with cities like Portland and Seattle exploding as hip places to live. Native Oregonians, I observed, took a condescending view of the Californians who headed north to seek a more affordable and less crowded life. I find it surprising that, despite this “Go back to California” mentality, rock bands from Portland would write songs celebrating California.
Last week I wrote about the Portland band The Decemberists who wrote about driving the scenic highways north of San Francisco. This week’s song, Everclear’s “Santa Monica” features a Portland band singing about a city south of San Fran. I suppose I would have expected a song more like Seattle-based Death Cab for Cuties’ “Why You’d Want to Live Here” which fiercely attacks Los Angeles. (“I’m in Los Angeles today / garbage cans comprise the medians / of freeways always creeping / even when the population’s sleeping.”)
Everclear reached the pinnacle of their success with their first two major-label releases Sparkle & Fade and So Much For the Afterglow, both of which were released in the mid-90s. "Santa Monica" succeeded as their top commercial hit on the strength of its catchy and repetitive lead guitar part and its escapist-fantasy lyrics.
The song begins with the strong opening line, “I am still living with your ghost / lonely and dreaming of the west coast.” What they sing is what you get. Vocalist Art Alexakis sings longingly, “I just want to see some palm trees… I just want to feel the sunshine… I just want to find someplace to be alone.” The chorus continues with this escapist sentiment, offering a image of paradise where, “We can live beside the ocean / leave the fire behind / We can swim out past the breakers / and watch the world die.”
Like other songs I will write about over these 52 weeks I cannot claim that there is anything morally uplifting about this song. Swimming in Santa Monica while the world dies is not a statement of my own aspirations. Yet, maybe the failure of empathy is mine as well because I don’t live day to day with the fantasy of moving somewhere with palm trees and good surfing. Alexakis’ escapism may be warranted for all I know.
This is likely an interpretive stretch, but if I look at this song through the lens of appreciative inquiry, I can at least celebrate the efforts of Everclear and The Decemberists to say what it is that they do like about California. It is better than DCfC’s Ben Gibbard jab that “You can’t swim in a town this shallow.”
You can see Everclear perform a version of Santa Monica here.
They perform an acoustic version of the song here.