When I recently traveled to Los Angeles, I had the same aims as any tourist: to see Jimmy Kimmel's theater, Amoeba Records, and the Hollywood sign. But I also wanted a question answered. Specifically, why is it every fad or trend in entertainment, food, health, spirituality or culture seems to come from California?
Hot rods? California.
Body building? Aerobics? California.
EST, Kaballah, Scientology, Church of Satan, the Jonestown cult? California.
Frisbees? Skateboarding? Hula hoops? Hacky sacks? California.
Operating systems, apps, iPhones and iPads? California.
Solid body electric guitars? California.
Thrash metal? California.
Gangsta rap? California.
Van Halen? California.
This curiosity was piqued when I was 14 or 15 years old, watching the old USA Night Flight. They did a show about California punk rock, and featured FEAR and the Dead Kennedys. In my fractured memory, Lee Ving of FEAR was brawling with a female fan, then saying, "God exists, but he's gay. He lives in a Cadillac on Santa Monica Boulevard." They then performed a wretched "harmony" on "I Love Living in the City," a song with references to sluts, rats and puke. The Dead Kennedys were next, playing "Holiday in Cambodia," kids running in circles and flying off the stage. For a Georgian used to watching Duran Duran videos, this was weird as hell! It looked like the whole thing was happening in some forgotten warehouse somewhere in L.A., or maybe even under a rock.
Then a year or so later, a kid at school was wearing a Dead Kennedys t-shirt. Where did he even hear of that band, let along get the shirt?
Another year later the new mall opened. There was a sporting goods store called Robby's that sold skateboards, but not the narrow, plastic kind I remembered my Tennessee cousin having in the `70's. These boards were long and wide, and had brightly-colored graphics. DogTown was the maker. Robby's also sold Thrasher magazine, which covered skateboarding, but also California punk bands with names like Gang Green. Suddenly tons of kids at school were wearing Misfits t-shirts and skateboarding. What had looked so weird on Night Flight a year earlier was now being done by kids in Georgia.
But why? They weren't staring at a pine tree in their front yard when they decided to do this. How had this idea filtered in from elsewhere? And why did it have to start there before it happened here?
I went to find out.
By the way, don't bypass that FEAR clip above. All these years later, that's quite...astonishing.