9 Stories About Me & My Favorite Record By My Favorite Band


(By The Way by the Red Hot Chili Peppers turned 10-years-old this month. It's my favorite record about my favorite place.)

i. By The Way came out a couple weeks after I visited Los Angeles for the first time. A few days before my trip (family vacation; my mom won a very important teaching award and the ceremony was in L.A.), they streamed a bunch of songs on the band website and I listened to them enough times to memorize them all, which is insane and wonderful. So I went to California with all these new songs in my head and when I got to Los Angeles I loved it immediately, how it looked and felt so much like the songs on By The Way, like a picture drawn with smudgy oil crayons: bright and hot and messy and wild, joyful in an uneasy sort of way. Our second or third day there, I walked from our hotel in Century City to the Laurel Canyon Country Store, which is even more insane and more wonderful than the thing of memorizing all the songs. I bought a tin of violet candies and came back salty and delirious, with a sunburn on my shoulders. I ate avocado rolls from the grocery store and named them the best sushi I'd ever had in my life, and I knew I would move to Los Angeles very soon.

ii. Back at home in Boston, By The Way came out and I bought it that day and set a tequila bottle filled with Santa Monica Beach sand on my windowsill and covered the back of my bedroom door with pictures I'd taken of the Chateau Marmont and of bougainvillea and smog and hills, along with pictures other people had taken of Jim Morrison and Axl Rose and Darby Crash and Perry Farrell and Courtney Love. I was "manifesting." At work I told this cool woman how I loved Los Angeles and she said "Let's do astrocartography!", which is this thing where you use your astrological chart to figure out how you relate to different geographical spaces. So we did astrocartography and there was all this activity or energy or whatever for me in Los Angeles, and the astrocartography website said something about how I could really shine in L.A. but I'd also run the risk of becoming "a victim of [my] own vanity." I thought that sounded kind of exciting.

iii. The second time I came to L.A. was the following spring (March 2003) and I stayed at a weird motel at the foot of the Hollywood Hills and I didn't have a car and I walked around so much that when I went back to the motel that night and took my boots off, my feet were all cut-up and bloody. I filled the tub with hot water and added shampoo to make bubbles, then sat at the edge and drank strawberry Boone's from the bottle and soaked my poor feet and listened to By The Way on my headphones, on my walkman.

iv. Soon after coming back from my second trip to Los Angeles I found this quote and wrote it down on a little piece of paper and reread it a lot:

"The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there likewise are poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness...There also is God, there are the angels...the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there."

-St. Macarius the Great

v. On August 2, 2003, I moved to Los Angeles and even got paid to move here, largely owing to a series of weird coincidences that I suppose lined up entirely for the purpose of my getting exactly what I wanted.

vi. About a year after I moved here there was a billboard by the Chateau Marmont for Brown Bunny, a still from the blowjob scene. "L.A. truly is a godless land," I thought, kinda kidding. Basically I don't think children should see billboards of blowjobs when they're riding down the street, but I also thought that billboard looked so good next to the Chateau, the Castle on the Hill. One thing I love most about the Red Hot Chili Peppers is how they're in love with all of Los Angeles, the beauty and the sleaze, how they hold all that in their hearts. If Los Angeles were all love and light and good, it would bore me to tears. I'd never want to live here if it were like that.

vii. Lots of years went by; bad things happened and good things happened. There was a time when I lost my way for a while and occasionally worried that the city was sucking my soul out and slowly turning me all Voldemort-y and withered, but that time eventually passed. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are still my favorite band and they always will be but I don't listen to By The Way very much anymore -- mostly I like to remember it as a beautiful album made for me and moving to Los Angeles, and then just leave it alone.

viii. On the morning of Fourth of July this year I listened to a few songs from By The Way while walking/running around my neighborhood. It was early and overcast; "the smog hadn't burned off yet" and no one was around, I got a little lost and walked down some creepy and desolate part of Sunset where someone had carved "John Lennon 4Ever" into the sidewalk. The song that got to me the most was "This Is The Place," which was always one of my favorite songs on the album. It's about Anthony and his drug probs, about being a perpetual fuck-up but lovin' life anyway; a lot of the lyrics are really cool to me. I like it so much when he sings: "I am a misft, I'm born with all of it, the fucking ultimate of love inside the atom split" and then, a few lines later, "A mash of DNA/another popinjay who thinks he's got something to say." I always think a popinjay is a bird but, no, it's "a vain and conceited person," and I love that. I love Anthony because I know he's one of those people whose heart's so heavy with love all the time and he's often very clumsy about articulating it -- I'm very clumsy too. We both love words and we use too many of them; we get a little sentimental. People like to be mean about Anthony because he takes his shirt off all the time and he used to have great hair and rap about sex a lot but I don't know; I think he's lovely and legitimately weird and a mess and so wonderful, so much of the time.

ix. When I first started writing this post I was dogsitting at a great house in the Silverlake Hills and on Sunday morning I woke up and paced around the patio for a while, looking at the hills and listening to By The Way. I usually sleep in a black slipdress thing and I was wearing that plus my sleep mask, pushed up to my forehead, sort of as an affect but partly because I just didn't feel like I taking it off. I ate some mango and L.A was so gorgeous and cloudless and perfect; in the backyard there was a really nice palm tree and a really nice grapefruit tree. A little while later I went for a walk to a highbrow cafe and bought a million-dollar iced coffee and ham sandwich and came back and read the Sunday paper and felt really carefree and supported by my surroundings. Later on I drank a beer in the hot tub and listened to By The Way again, twice in a row.

I used to be so impressed with myself for how much I loved Los Angeles -- I thought it was so special of me to find so much beauty in a place that's so obviously nasty. I've transcended caring about that, because it's so much a part of me that it hardly seems worth mentioning anymore: I'd rather just let it radiate from my bones and then go love some other stuff. But one thing I do still marvel at, that I always want to tell everyone, is that so much of the reason why Los Angeles loves me is that I'm very, very careful about loving it right back. I think there's probably something to that.

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