To accurately write about Los Angeles, one must acknowledge its morbidity as well as its tranquility. The city’s like Miami in that way. It’s a place blessed by sunshine for much of the year, but could also be partially underwater in the next century. It’s a land that brims with opportunity, but also puts artists through a meat grinder shortly after they arrive. You can go there to start over, or you could just as easily go there to die.
This clashing of Golden State entropy and leisure is nothing new in rock music, going as far back as The Beach Boys — perhaps even further. The juxtaposition also has a scope far more complex than sun versus shadow, expansion versus destruction, life versus death. Brian Wilson, for instance, filtered the contrast through an intensely personal lens, offsetting the utopian elements of SoCal with his own melancholia. The Eagles explored West Coast hedonism through metaphor on Hotel California. A more modern band like Best Coast might prefer a more literary writing style, simply talking about a good L.A. party in one song, then a bad L.A. party in the next.
Tim Heidecker’s In Glendale — billed as the comedian’s “first earnest collection of songwriting under his full name” — finds its own spin on the two-fisted Los Angeles mythos, one that’s characterized by mundaneness rather than depression or drug-fueled depravity. The title alone is telling. While Glendale plays home to a large number of animation studios, it’s not exactly recognized as a destination for Hollywood blockbusters or nightlife — more famous for its shopping centers than its film landmarks or clubs. In his 2014 Red Hot Chili Peppers parody, Heidecker’s pal Jon Daly even went as far as to praise the city’s Target over the one in North Hollywood, mainly for its shopping-cart escalator.
As such, Heidecker’s collection of 10 narrative songs present a Greater Los Angeles Area filled with everyday tasks, from picking up after canines and babies (“Cleaning Up the Dog Shit”) to worrying about money (“When the Cash Runs Out”) and trying to balance a 9-to-5 job with a hangover (“Work From Home”). There’s little commentary on how he actually feels about a life more domesticated than many of his more famous neighbors in the hills, which perfectly captures the atmosphere of domesticity in general. We all have good days and bad ones, but when someone runs an errand or changes a diaper, they’re often driven by the motor requirements of the task, giving little thought to the consequences of their actions, usually because there are none. In that sense, much of In Glendale feels akin to a Raymond Carver story, hazily presenting tales of everyday life to the listener and allowing them to fill in whatever joy or dread might surround the chores and the shopping trips and the workdays.
On a handful of tracks, Heidecker pulls from his more twisted work as a comic and brings the California darkness to the forefront. The title track references the fact that, for all the song’s bright harmonies and honky-tonk piano, L.A. is still a hotbed for future natural disasters. Towards the end of the album, “I Saw Nicholas Cage” presents an unremarkable encounter with the actor (remember, this is Glendale, not Beverly Hills) that precedes a car wreck where four kids die. And “Ghost In My Bed” is more or less Heidecker’s version of “Excitable Boy”, the cheery chords doing their best to mask the narrator’s account of being haunted by the woman he just buried in the Hollywood Hills. It’s as indebted to the account of Glendale murderers the Hillside Stranglers as it is to Warren Zevon.
But where Zevon, the Eagles, and other members of the Avocado Mafia had a shimmer that gave their nasty lyrics a knowing smirk, Heidecker’s still a little green as a singer. He’s not bad at all — quite pleasant, actually — but throughout In Glendale, he sounds unsure of himself, never going full vibrato or exhibiting the same commitment as his Laurel Canyon forefathers. If the vocals were as lush as Jonathan Rado’s soft rock arrangements — replete with horns, spirited strumming, and low-end thump — the contrast between music and lyrics would be even more pronounced, and thus, more Los Angeles.
Essential Tracks: “In Glendale”, Ghost In My Bed”, and “I Saw Nicholas Cage”