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Monday, May 16, 2016

I’m Just a California Boy: 10 Songs That Make Me Nostalgic For The Bay Area

Posted By on Mon, May 16, 2016 at 10:03 AM

click to enlarge Dayumm, that's one fine-looking city right thurr. - STEVE EDELSTONE
  • Steve Edelstone
  • Dayumm, that's one fine-looking city right thurr.

Until September 2013, I had never spent more than a few months at a time outside of the Bay Area. Growing up in Moraga, a pristine suburb in the East Bay devoid of any sort of culture, I had my gaze focused to the west, through the Caldecott Tunnel, just over the rolling green hills, to UC Berkeley.

For the first dozen or so years of my life, attending UC Berkeley was my ultimate goal. Both my parents and grandparents had graduated from the school, and, as a child, I would bring my plastic trumpet to football games so that I could play along with the marching band. I recently cleaned out my closet in Moraga and found a poster I made in third grade in which I had to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I wrote, “A Cal student.”

That answer says a lot about my childhood: I dreamed of going to Cal, not becoming an astronaut or the president like everyone else. At that point, I had no idea where life would take me once I turned 22; I only cared about where I’d be for the four years prior. And after that, I’d live in San Francisco.

But part of that dream never happened. Though I attended UC Berkeley, I studied political science and ended up on a one-way flight to DC to work on Capitol Hill.

My foray into politics lasted a mere six months before I booked it New York City because I realized that politics wasn’t for me. I’d got into it because of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but instead of enacting any sort of change, I felt like I had now become part of the joke.

Upon moving to the Big Apple, I decided to pursue a career in music journalism, upgrading music from something that enhanced my life to something that defined it. It was time to take control over my life and do not what sounded practical, but what was actually fun. Plus, musicians are way more fun than politicians.

But with everything that has changed in my life since I graduated college, I still view the Bay Area as home. When riding the subway, I still daydream that the 14th Street stops on the L are actually the 12th or 19th Street BART stops in Oakland. Once, while flying from Oakland to D.C., I took a picture of the sunrise over S.F. with Sutro Tower and the Financial District poking through the fog — and I still look at it almost every day. My San Francisco glasses may not be as rosy as the sky above the clouds that morning, but I definitely still miss it.

I may be the first to criticize the direction that San Francisco has taken since I’ve left and I may not be as homesick as I once was, but when the wind chill drops below 0 degrees, you bet I wish I was laying down at Dolores Park with an Ike’s sandwich in one hand and an Anchor Steam in the other.

Over the course of a snowy 24-hour period in Brooklyn this past winter, I compiled a playlist of songs that make me the most nostalgic for home (which, I must say, is a great distraction when you’re both cold and snowed in). Without further ado, here’s a very biased list of the 10 songs that remind me most of the Bay Area.

1. “Alex” – Girls
Easily my favorite San Francisco band of all time, Christopher Owens and Chet “JR” White’s blissed out yet introspective take on surf-rock soundtracked my entire college career at Cal. Every song on their two and a half albums has a distinct memory attributed to it. From hikes, to road trips, to sunrises at Twin Peaks a la the “Hellhole Ratrace” video, Girls were always there for me. “Alex” defined the drunken haze of summer 2011 — though I’ll always remember blasting it out of my car windows while driving down the Great Highway along Ocean Beach towards Land’s End Park on the sunniest day the Outer Sunset has ever seen. Sometimes the simplest memories give you the warmest feelings imaginable.

2. “California Boy” – Lil B

In September 2012, Lil B released his first rock song, “California Boy.” My friends were obsessed with Lil B, not necessarily because of his music, but because of his overall ridiculous persona. From his highly entertaining NYU lecture to his absurdly tight purple deep V-necks, nothing he did made him seem like a real person. When you’re about to graduate college, you’re bombarded with speeches and motivational quotes urging you to never give up on your dreams no matter what anyone says, which is exactly what Lil B did. He did whatever the fuck he wanted, no matter what the critics said. That being said, I’m still really pissed off that I wasn’t in this music video as I lived a couple blocks away from where it’s shot. #TYBG

3. “Lights” – Journey
If you were at AT&T Park during game two of the 2010 World Series, you know why this is in here. As a lifelong Giants fan who came of age during the awful post-Barry Bonds era, I almost fainted when I heard that my dad got tickets to the World Series. On that chilly October night, the Giants demolished the Rangers as Matt Cain & co. pitched a shutout en route to a 9-0 win. There was a contagious feeling of unadulterated joy that spread through the ball park as it was clear that the Giants would go on the road with a 2-0 series lead. And, when “Lights” by Journey was played over the stadium speakers in the 8th inning, the entire ballpark erupted in a huge sing-along. Lo and behold, Steve Perry managed to get himself on the big screen and urged everyone in the crowd to sing with him. That was easily one of the coolest moments I’ve ever been a part of.

4. “Since ‘84” – Mac Dre
You know what’s the most heartbreaking thing about moving outside of the Bay Area? No one knows who Mac Dre is, let alone what the word “hyphy” means. Though I was too young to have seen him live —Mac Dre died when I was 13 — we all loved his music even if we didn’t quite know what a Thizz Face really was. I probably could have picked pretty much anything off of Ronald Dregan for this, but since “Since ‘84” has one of my favorite beats in all of hip hop, I had to go with it. Get me drunk at a house party in Brooklyn and I’ll take over the music at some point in the night to put this song on. Mind you, no one has ever changed it mid-song.

5. “Through the Front Door” – Vetiver
So many of my favorite memories of college included spontaneous hikes in the Berkeley Hills. Armed with a few bottles of wine, my shitty portable speakers, and my acoustic playlist, I’d routinely make the trip from the top of Dwight Way, through the Eucalyptus trees, and up to the fire trail behind Clark Kerr, always stopping at the boulder that overlooks the entire Bay Area. “Through the Front Door” by Vetiver was one of the first songs on that playlist and every time I hear those first few fingerpicked chords, I get transported right back to Berkeley, watching the sun set behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

6. “Coastin’” – Zion I
I’m a creature of habit and sometimes those habits get really specific. For example, each time I fly back to the Bay Area, I BLAST “Coastin’” by Zion I the moment I see the San Francisco skyline. Nothing gets me as excited as those opening staccato piano chords — a feeling that makes me think I can take on the world Rocky style. Side note: I listened to this song on the subway ride from Bushwick to Finnerty’s (the San Francisco bar in the East Village in Manhattan — a must visit for all Bay Area sports fans in New York) before every Warriors playoff game last year. The few times when I either forgot my headphones or had a dead phone we lost. This song is legitimately the opposite of the Based God Curse.

7. “Time-Sick Son of a Grizzly Bear” – The Mother Hips
When I turned 16 and got my driver’s license, this was the first song I played as I pulled out of the driveway for the first time without my parents in the passenger seat. I always thought that the breezy opening chords would make for a great road trip song and, boy, was I right. Every window down and the speakers on full blast, I careened down the residential street that I lived on going at least 50 in a 25 mile area, screaming the nonsensical chorus “I’M A TIME-SICK SON OF A GRIZZLY BEAR / I CAN’T FIT IN ANYWHERE” until my voice went hoarse. Get well soon, Tim!

8. “San Francisco Knights” – People Under the Stairs

Yeah, I know People Under the Stairs are from L.A., but they also wrote one of the best songs about San Francisco of all time. There are few songs that simply sound better than “San Francisco Knights” while driving through the city (especially if you “make a left on Market”). The chilled out fingerpicked guitar beat is perfect for smoking to, especially at Twin Peaks (“smokin’ on top of the hill so we can peep the city lights”). Listening to this track outside of San Francisco still feels weird, but there are few songs that sound this great when cruising around the city’s various hills at night.

9. “Lying Around” – Magic Bullets

On November 28, 2010, DJ Eddie and the Stones (a.k.a. me) signed on to his first ever college radio show on 90.7 FM KALX. It was a training show and after picking out my music for the day, my trainer asked, “Why didn’t you pick out any vinyl?” The embarrassing real answer is that I honestly didn’t really know how to work a turntable, but after making up some stupid excuse, I was told to quickly go pick something out of the featured stack. I randomly stumbled upon Magic Bullets’ “Lying Around” 7” and was blown away after hearing the first chord progression. Potentially the catchiest song in San Francisco history, it was a staple in my rooftop drinking playlist and it still is today.

10. “I Think Ur a Contra” – Vampire Weekend
Alright, so this is probably the least Bay Area-centric song in this piece, but I’d like to think that it relates. There’s loads of theories about what this album is actually about, ranging from a concept album about the Iran Contra scandal to it being loosely structured around the theme of being “against something.” But they’re all wrong (I think): The album is about Contra Costa County. My reasons: Ezra Koenig’s cousin — queue the song “Cousins” — lives in the East Bay; “California English” name checks Contra Costa; and the band played an album release show in Lafayette, for fuck’s sake. That being said, it’s hard not to associate the album’s closing track, “I Think Ur a Contra” with my teenage experience. “You wanted good schools and friends with pools” pretty much sums up my Moraga childhood better than anything else — it’s just weird that the lyric came from a guy who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and not through the Caldecott Tunnel.
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Steven Edelstone


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