Watch Randy Newman’s Tour of Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard, and You’ll Love L.A. Too

“The longer I live here,” a Los Ange­les-based friend recent­ly said, “the more ‘I Love L.A.’ sounds like an uniron­ic trib­ute to this city.” That hit sin­gle by Randy New­man, a singer-song­writer not known for his sim­ple earnest­ness, has pro­duced a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of inter­pre­ta­tions since it came out in 1983, the year before Los Ange­les pre­sent­ed a sun­ny, col­or­ful, for­ward-look­ing image to the world as the host of the Sum­mer Olympic Games. Lis­ten­ers still won­der now what they won­dered back then: when New­man sings the prais­es — lit­er­al­ly — of the likes of Impe­r­i­al High­way, a “big nasty red­head,” Cen­tu­ry Boule­vard, the San­ta Ana winds, and bums on their knees, does he mean it?

“I Love L.A.“ ‘s both smirk­ing and enthu­si­as­tic music video offers a view of New­man’s 1980s Los Ange­les, but fif­teen years lat­er, he starred in an episode of the pub­lic tele­vi­sion series Great Streets that presents a slight­ly more up-to-date, and much more nuanced, pic­ture of the city. In it, the native Ange­leno looks at his birth­place through the lens of the 27-mile Sun­set Boule­vard, Los Ange­les’ most famous street — or, in his own words, “one of those places the movies would’ve had to invent, if it did­n’t already exist.”

His­to­ri­an Leonard Pitt (who appears along­side fig­ures like film­mak­er Alli­son Anders, artist Ed Ruscha, and Doors key­boardist Ray Man­zarek) describes Sun­set as the one place along which you can see “every stra­tum of Los Ange­les in the short­est peri­od of time.” Or as New­man puts it, “Like a lot of the peo­ple who live here, Sun­set is hum­ble and hard-work­ing at the begin­ning,” on its inland end. “Go fur­ther and it gets a lit­tle self-indul­gent and out­ra­geous” before it “straight­ens itself out and grows rich, fat, and respectable.” At its coastal end “it gets real twist­ed, so there’s noth­ing left to do but jump into the Pacif­ic Ocean.”

New­man’s west­ward jour­ney, made in an open-topped con­vert­ible (albeit not “I Love L.A.“ ‘s 1955 Buick) takes him from Union Sta­tion (Amer­i­ca’s last great rail­way ter­mi­nal and the ori­gin point of “L.A.‘s long, long-antic­i­pat­ed sub­way sys­tem”) to Aimee Sem­ple McPher­son­’s Angelus Tem­ple, now-gen­tri­fied neigh­bor­hoods like Sil­ver Lake then only in mid-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, the hum­ble stu­dio where he laid tracks for some of his biggest records, the cor­ner where D.W. Grif­fith built Intol­er­ance’s ancient Baby­lon set, the sto­ried celebri­ty hide­out of the Chateau Mar­mont, UCLA (“almost my alma mater”), the Lake Shrine Tem­ple of the Self-Real­iza­tion Fel­low­ship, and final­ly to edge of the con­ti­nent.

More recent­ly, Los Ange­les Times archi­tec­ture crit­ic Christo­pher Hawthorne trav­eled the entire­ty of Sun­set Boule­vard again, but on foot and in the oppo­site direc­tion. The east-to-west route, he writes, “offers a way to explore an intrigu­ing notion: that the key to deci­pher­ing con­tem­po­rary Los Ange­les is to focus not on growth and expan­sion, those build­ing blocks of 20th cen­tu­ry South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, but instead on all the ways in which the city is dou­bling back on itself and get­ting denser.” For so much of the city’s his­to­ry, “search­ing for a metaphor to define Sun­set Boule­vard, writ­ers” — or musi­cians or film­mak­ers or any num­ber of oth­er cre­ators besides — “have described it as a riv­er run­ning west and feed­ing into the Pacif­ic. But the riv­er flows the oth­er direc­tion now.”

Los Ange­les has indeed plunged into a thor­ough trans­for­ma­tion since New­man first simul­ta­ne­ous­ly cel­e­brat­ed and sat­i­rized it, but some­thing of the dis­tinc­tive­ly breezy spir­it into which he tapped will always remain. “There‘s some kind of igno­rance L.A. has that I’m proud of. The open car and the red­head and the Beach Boys, the night just cool­ing off after a hot day, you got your arm around some­body,” he said to the Los Ange­les Week­ly a few years after tap­ing his Great Streets tour. ”That sounds real­ly good to me. I can‘t think of any­thing a hell of a lot bet­ter than that.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Glenn Gould Gives Us a Tour of Toron­to, His Beloved Home­town (1979)

Charles Bukows­ki Takes You on a Very Strange Tour of Hol­ly­wood

Join Clive James on His Clas­sic Tele­vi­sion Trips to Paris, LA, Tokyo, Rio, Cairo & Beyond

The City in Cin­e­ma Mini-Doc­u­men­taries Reveal the Los Ange­les of Blade Run­ner, Her, Dri­ve, Repo Man, and More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Gerald A Vidal says:

    I just saw all 5 parts in one sit­ting, and it was very touch­ing. Hav­ing been born and raised in L.A., but for the last 4 years liv­ing out my retire­ment in Fayet­teville, Arkansas( I have fam­i­ly here) was very mov­ing. I too had dri­ven the length of Sun­set Blvd. I have “groovy” mem­o­ries of the music venues my band played in dur­ing the “60’s”…and in recent years I would take my son, Julian, on to Car­ney’s on Sun­set for burgers…(he loved trains and Jets)…I grew up near Impe­r­i­al blvd. Worked on San­ta Mon­i­ca Blvd. near Vine…visited the Bev Hills Hotel before and after the renovation…jammed with oth­er gui­tarist in the late 60’s in Echo Park and Sil­ver Lake…enjoyed the cul­tur­al rev­o­lu­tion of the Sun­set Strip…When Randy New­mans song “I Love L.A.” came out, I auto­mat­i­cal­ly thought IT should be the “Song” for Los Angeles…Being a stu­dent of his­to­ry, I knew agout 60% about L.A. and Sun­set Blve…but this doc­u­men­tary was spot on. Thanks for the broad­cast, and for the person(s) who uploaded on You Tube, and for this article…I was just in L.A. for 2 weeks ..I vis­it­ed sev­er­al of my old haunts, espe­cial­ly eat­ing places I miss (DuPars, El Coy­ote, Green­blatts, Titos Tacos…Fatburger, to nname a few. I have fond mem­o­ries to enjoy and share with my new friends here in the south.
    All the best,
    Ger­ry Vidal

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