Songs for our City: Elliott Smith on Alameda Street
There's a song for every neighborhood in this sprawling octopus of a metropolis. The psychedlic folk of Topanga Canyon, the booty droppin' bass of Compton, and lonesome gristle of Silver Lake. This week, as a sonic portrait of Los Angeles, West Coast Sound presents: Songs for our City.
Elliott Smith may be the ultimate troubadour for late '90's L.A. and the re-invention of Silver Lake. His shiftless existence was codified in his trembling vocals--stranded somewhere between laughter and tears--and guitar driven melancholy pop. His songs captured the feeling of Los Angeles, filling in the emotional negative space that photographs omit. On "Alameda," from 1997's Either/Or, Smith sings about taking a walk in L.A.:
You walk down Alameda shuffling your deck of trick cards over everyone
Like some precious only son
Face down, bow to the champion
You walk down Alameda looking at the cracks in the sidewalk,
thinking about your friends
How you maintain all them in a constant state of suspense
In a few short lines, Smith addresses the paradox of city life, especially in Easterly bohemian enclaves Silver Lake and Echo Park, where intense community spirit can also hold hands with isolation. The visual of pavement cracks and the sun-bleached streets of Alameda immediately evokes the feeling of walking in L.A., where people on foot are veritable pariahs in a city tangled with freeways. He astutely depicts L.A.'s social network too, where artists and dreamers always wait for the next step. Smith was adept translator of emotion into images, and, until he succumbed to emotional fatigue, he effectively converted raw feelings into art, like coal into diamonds.
What songs do you think tell the stories of Silver Lake?