Sometimes it happens, although you feel that you have got everything under your control, you still feel like you are as small as an ant in a desert.
At other times, you have good reason to feel this way. That may be because you’re in a massive city; one of the biggest in the world.
Los Angeles (LA), also known as “the city of Angels”, is the home of the music business and film industry. Hollywood and stars .. stars everywhere; on the sidewalk you’re carelessly stepping on and all around you.
People tend to have big expectations when it comes to Los Angeles. I mean it’s not even our fault, we have been thought that this is the place where everything happens, where dreams are turned into reality, and without realizing it, in the blink of an eye, you too have become part of someone else’s movie or if you’re brave and lucky enough you’ll be the leading actor of your own.
We’ve seen frames of beverly hills and glimpses of Santa Monica in that tv series we’re always watching during lunchtime, after cooking our plain pasta in a rush, alone and having been completely taken away by it. We’ve seen the Hollywood mountain on that cinema billboard. We have got to know the details of the streets in every Instagram story of the celebs we follow.
LA is more an idea than an actual city. And a lot of time is needed, not to understand this place but to .. get it. Because it’s not about understanding it, it’s not about reading about it and knowing its history, it’s about feeling it, catching that vibe.
Not everyone does.
Loads of people I heard from, came back home feeling unsatisfied and disappointed by the big roads that just look like cold highways; ones that you could literally find in every other part of the world.
Some have even left feeling disgusted by all the obsession in stardom - with the importance everyone seems to give to looks and appearances and the TMZ tours around celebrities villas, as if a visit to LA was like a safari in the jungle.
It is indeed a jungle somehow, a human one, with no rules whatsoever, but to be cool enough. There are no guidelines of what is being “cool enough”.
To me Los Angeles has always been a landmark for one specific thing: music.
Since I was a kid I’ve always been so passionate about music. I watched all the videos playing on MTV and all the interviews that have been aired.
And reading about my favorite artists and all their adventures, it seemed that this was the place where magic happens. The place where singers get discovered by busking on the street, and go on to become the next big thing. The place where producers get together to create that beat you keep singing through the rest of summer.
Music is indeed a cult in Los Angeles. Built on dry land, where everything is as stable and dead as the desert, this place right in the middle of peaceful California is a mess and it is out of control.
The number of homeless people, weird people, suspiciously outgoing people who approach you is overwhelming and actually quite worrying. But everything here is so romanticized. The homeless on the street has become someone who maybe came here to pursue his dream, that never eventually materialized, and has found himself with nothing at all, and living by the edge of the street.
When I stepped on LaLaLand, all I could hear were songs. Songs referring to specific places of the city, about feelings this place gave to the people who came here before me.
When the plane landed I heard the strumming guitar of “Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus along with the lyrics “I hop off the plane at LAX with my dreams and my cardigan”. When I spent money, I heard Carly Rae Jepsen singing “LA Hallucinations”. Whilst I was riding in my Uber cab, in my head was Fergie humming a “Lalalala la LA got me feeling like ..”
There were so many emotions about this place I was projecting onto me, but I hadn’t actually felt yet. Hey, I had just got here. I was looking forward to getting around. I wanted to feel it all and make those stories really mine.
The first days pass by. I had visited almost everything. All on the to dos list, done. The Buzzfeed “20 things to see in LA”, done. The Tripadvisor bars, done. I had an hunger for LA, the city had been sitting in my bucket list for as long as I can remember!
When I first got out of the airport, in a taxi on the highway to Hollywood, my first sight was a massive Billboard of an album soon to be out. To me, it meant people actually cared about music here. Albums and concerts ruled around here. Music was the priority in this place. But, was it?
Within a few days, a couple of things were clear as day to me. One, it was about how they sell it to you; and two, reality comes straight to your face.
My enthusiasm had faded. This land didn’t feel passionate and soulful. It wasn’t even raw. Everything felt commercial. A polished product sold to tourists.
Everything was staged and I had been bluffed. The joke was on me. Unless I compromised and romanticized with the strangers asking for money on the street, Los Angeles had closed its doors to me. I had to settle, I wasn’t feeling it.
One day after a long afternoon of sightseeing that wasn’t giving me anything more, I spent my last dollars on the tenth Uber ride of the day - I had to move around in such a big and dispersed place.
I was sharing the car with another boy and I was looking out the window wondering why I wasn’t getting it. Was there even something to get? Why did I feel all of this is fake? Does no one really care about the art or feel for the music?
The Uber driver stopped to pick another passenger.
A young black girl whose name was Olivia opened the door to sit in the front. Her curly hair put in two perfect braids up her head, an unusual onesie and an even more unusual willingness to be friends with everyone. A will that was matched by the driver’s, who no one was listening to until then. As the chauffeur asked her about her day, she mentioned she had been rehearsing and she was getting ready for a gig.
My ears sharpened like a dog. Was she a musician maybe? Someone who could tell me where to go to satisfy my expectations or at least listen to some decent music? I was ready to hear it.
I didn’t want to miss my chance so I asked right away what kind of music she sang. She put on her songs: beautiful.
I had a moment. I could feel her soul and the little imperfections of an artist who’s still shaping and creating herself.
We talked about production, about what music means to us. She told me about the time she got to spend the day with Erykah Badu. I was wide awake now.
She left me a note with the name of the place I should go to if I wanted to feel the real soul of LA. She described it as place where the people who genuinely believed in the art went to sing their hearts out; a real place, away from all the glitter and touriusty packages. I held on to that note for all the days following, until Monday.
Monday night was my last night in LA and I decided to give it a shot. My expectations were low but I was badly hoping for something great.
As I approached the door, I wasn’t sure if this was the right place. It sure didn’t look right from the outside. My mind was already going places. Damn, is this again some sort of classy and fancy bar where I definitely don’t belong; where they are gonna try and sell me some sort of version of LA for connoisseurs?
At the entrance they asked me to wear a tag that said ‘hello my name is.. ’. I wasn’t really getting it and I was confused.
I got in. The vibe hit me.
Smiling faces all around, effortless coolness by people sitting on big benches chatting with each other. It looked like a victorian library: there were columns of books and low lights, a little stage with instruments on it.
I sat on a chair and the girl next to me started randomly singing as soon as she heard the music. I was kind of impressed.
Then a man very casually picked the bass and started playing the same pattern, another boy got next to him with a keyboard, and all of a sudden someone jumped in with the drumsticks. Why was everyone so talented and how was this all so effortless? Was it staged was it just happening in front of my eyes?
What was this place?
Finally, a woman got up on stage: “Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the juice joint where there are no egos, just music and soul”. As the jazzy melodies played she proceeded to sarcastically indicate all the obvious songs people couldn’t sing like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. The music kept going. Some amazing artists got up on stage to freestyle, to give out some slam poetry, and to sing.
A girl with a familiar face got on stage. She sang beautifully .. It was her. It was Olivia!
As she got off the small stage I went straight over to say hi and thanked her. Thanked her because she made me believe again in the magic of this city, in the pureness of music getting people together, and in the craziness of it all.
Now I could feel it, it wasn’t just a song, it wasn’t just in the movies it was real. “Oh my God the Uber girl! You came!” she said as she hugged me. Of course I did.
LA Visit, Play List
Party in the USA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M11SvDtPBhA
La Hallucinations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPrZUiDVHrM
LA love: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLyP0B2Q-R4