“Wild West End,” a track from Dire Straits’ self-titled first record, is a dreamy, beautiful song I carry around with me, even if I don’t seek it out for regular listens. Buried deep inside the memory of my MP3 player, the song will pop up now and then like a pleasant memory hidden in the recesses of my brain. I can’t pinpoint the first time I heard this song, but I do know that moment occurred in the mid-’90s, after Julie and I moved west. Back then, the optimism of the Clinton administration was trickling down to blue-collar workers like us. Music was in one of its transitional phases, somewhere between alternative rock and a burgeoning group of artists like Dave Matthews and Sheryl Crow. Soon after we took up residency in California, a great radio station took to the airwaves. KSCA, 103.1 was Los Angeles’ answer to the AAA format, or “World Class Rock.”
In the beginning, KSCA didn’t adhere to a defined playlist, and in any given hour you could hear Springsteen, Shawn Colvin, the Smithereens, vintage Bonnie Raitt, Steve Earle, Tori Amos, the Clash and Dire Straits. For a brief moment, the station shined brightly in the city of angels, but it faded fast, like a dying star. To me, it was the demise of meaningful radio. Every station after KSCA disappeared began to sound the same: corporate. The DJs on 103.1 felt like your friends, people you could rely on for guidance, suggestions, and arguments (not to mention they had the ability to make Los Angeles listeners feel like a real community), and the mouthpieces that rattled from my car speakers all sounded like variations of the same damn voice. When I hear Dire Straits on the radio anymore, it’s usually one of five songs; it’s never “Wild West End.” Perhaps that’s why it’s so special to me — it reminds me of an important period in my life when Julie and I were finding our way together in a foreign land called Los Angeles.
Anytime I listen to “Wild West End” now, I think of the random cards and notes I used to write for Julie. These “love letters,” often in place of flowers, were an attempt to reassure her of how much I love her (as if marriage wasn’t enough). I don’t want to say that fear was behind them, but I often found it difficult to fathom that someone as wonderful as Julie could actually love a flawed man as much as she loves me. Even today, when I steal a glance in her direction, I marvel as the good graces handed down to me. This woman, my soulmate, amazes me daily and I can’t believe that I have the good fortune to call myself her husband.
If I were to compose one of those notes to her today, it would probably go something like this:
I’ve had this song stuck in my head for some time. It’s by Dire Straits. It wasn’t one of their hits. In fact, I don’t know if it was ever released as a single. Anyway, whenever I have it traveling through my noggin, a rush of good feelings sweep over me and I’m sent back to our first years of marriage. It think about…
Sun-drenched afternoons lounging by the pool of the apartment; walking down Ventura Blvd hand in hand, window shopping; eating take out from Chin Chin or pizza from Little Tony’s (isn’t it funny how all of the waitresses there seem like they’re 70 years old?); that flower shop, Willard’s, that you used to work at (where you almost got hit by a car when I dropped you off for work one morning); living around the corner from North Hollywood High and having to hear those damn class bells every morning; all of the crappy things about our apartment on Chandler that we did our best to work around, first and foremost dragging our mattress down the long hallway into the living room in the middle of summer because the shitty air conditioner sucked and only blew cool air over the three feet underneath it; the cats, of course, and Doodle getting hidden INSIDE the couch; the three-minute drive to Budd and Karyn’s house and the countless nights we spent there listening to music and drinking beer (and on rare occasions, going out someplace expensive on a whim); me having to drive that Winnebago and the number of times I smacked my head on its ceiling (I still feel phantom pains); seeing the Indigo Girls at the Universal Amphitheater (I fell asleep); seeing Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Hornsby play the Hollywood Bowl; Shawn Colvin and David Gray at the Wiltern… was that a show or what?
I recall the visit from your sisters that went great and the one with Matt (same weekend) which did not. I recall many of the kind gestures you did for me like buying the laserdisc player (how did you do that?) and signing me up for the coffee of the month club and those bitchin’ signed copies of the “Death of Superman” comics (I still have those).
Sometimes I’ll be driving past our old apartments and feel this tinge of nostalgia. It’s not that I want to go back to those seemingly simple times. No, I love where we are now, despite the hardships. But those neighborhoods and beat-up streets and questionable sections of the city and loud cars and helicopters are a part of us. Unlike Ohio, where we both grew up, the parts of the San Fernando Valley we called home are where we became grown-ups together.
For some reason,I don’t write many of those notes anymore. Time is the culprit. My free moments to jot down a thought are robbed by parental responsibilities, morning jogs and writing unproduced screenplays or blog entries. Maybe I should make an effort to write one once a month…or at least every time “Wild West End” pops up on my MP3 player to remind me of the good things in my life.