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California Dystopia: 10 Songs About California and Broken Dreams

Updated on June 21, 2011

10 Songs About The Dark Side of California

What's not to love about California? Plenty. These 10 songs about California explain the state's flaws and letdowns in mournful and bitter detail.

Mythical California

The good life in California is supposedly a blur of endless sunshine and beach time.

In California, youth is supposed to linger like the warm glow of a Pacific Coast sunset, and every freeway onramp is supposed to lead to an open road of riches.


Chasers of these California dreams are invariably foiled, of course.

Fame, fortune and freedom don't always follow a move to the Golden State.

The state's realities are more likely to involve earthquakes, fires and mangled mortgages.

(Disappointments, smog and traffic jams are nearly guaranteed, though.)

Eventually, some newcomers begin to see the state as a downright dystopia. The refrain of the day becomes: "I want to go home."

And, perhaps, one day it will come to pass that you're the one with such dark thoughts about the Golden State.

These are the songs you'll be singing as you kiss California goodbye.

♦ ♦ ♦

1) California: Headquarters For Fakeness, USA

"Back Home," Yellowcard

  • What's wrong with California: No rain. And, worse, you're left "empty handed after two long years." Nothing's real.
  • From the song: "Everybody here is living life in fear of falling out of line; tearing lives apart and breaking lots of hearts just to pass the time."
  • A place that would be better: "Beneath the dark Atlantic sky."

2) Wondrous California? Oh, please.

"California," Rufus Wainwright

  • What's wrong with California: It's a snooze-worthy "sea of neon." Too many surfers. Too much PB&J on the menu.
  • From the song: "Ain't it a shame that all the world can't enjoy your mad traditions? Ain't it a shame that all the world don't got keys to their own ignitions? Life is the longest death in California."
  • A better place would be: Somewhere up north and freezing.

3) No rain, but it's still gloomy.

"California Rain," Silvertide

  • What's wrong with California: There, you start talking to yourself and your heart "smiles no more."
  • From the song: "The nights are long, and the days roll into each other. In the City of Angels I can't get no sleep."
  • A better place would be: Philadelphia, "sippin' coffee in your kitchen."

4) The people are insane.

"California Sky," Unwritten Law

  • What's wrong with California: Illusions, confusion and the lack of heroes.
  • From the song: "Bright lights, they flash across the sky. May be the reason why we're all insane and I don't want to get away."
  • A better place would be: Wherever it's possible to "turn back the time."

5) It's hard to make it in California.

"Goodbye Hollywood," JET

  • What's wrong with California: Hollywood "don't fit." It means being kicked around and cleaned out.
  • From the song: "Goodbye Hollywood, your sweet success don't taste that good."
  • A better place would be: Home.

6) It's impossible to pay the bills.

"House in California," Keb' Mo'

  • What's wrong with California: Only rich actors and lawyers can make it in California. And buying a house? Forget it.
  • From the song: "Well I got me a job, my wife’s got two. Kids flippin’ burgers at the local drive-thru. We all doing everything we can, saving for a house in California. Then one day the bank starts shaking, the sky went dark and the earth was quaking. Then overnight, it be came alarming, how the price dropped on a house in California."
  • A better place would be: Back east. Maybe Buffalo?

7) There are the traffic jams...

"I Remember California," REM

  • What's wrong with California: The state's tangerines aren't sweet enough to fix a love that goes out with the tide.
  • From the song: "I remember traffic jams, motor boys and girls with tans, nearly was and almost rans."
  • A better place would be: A place where life is fair.

8) ...And there's the loneliness.

"Under the Bridge," Red Hot Chili Peppers

  • What's wrong with California: Its sheer, destructive loneliness.
  • From the song: "Sometimes I feel like my only friend is the city I live in, the City of Angels. Lonely as I am, together we cry."
  • A better place would be: A "place that I love," a life away from the bridge downtown.

9) Behind the scenes, it's a burning bedlam.

"Los Angeles Is Burning," Bad Religion

  • What's wrong with California? It's a charred mess. "Even the stars are ill at ease."
  • From the song: "A placard reads 'The End of Days.' Jacaranda boughs are bending in the haze. More a question than a curse: How could hell be any worse? The flames are stunning, the cameras are running, so take warning."
  • A better place would be: Far from the Santa Ana winds.

10) Dreams don't always come true in California.

"Midnight Train to Georgia," Gladys Knight & The Pips

  • What's wrong with California: Couldn't make it there. LA proved to be "too much." Stardom is elusive.
  • From the song: "He sure found out the hard way that dreams don't always come true. So he pawned all his hopes, and he even sold his old car. Bought a one way ticket back to the life he once knew."
  • A better place would be: Georgia.


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    • Aaron Seitler profile image

      Aaron Seitler 3 years ago from Manchester, United Kingdom

      Am I missing something or is there a reason why "Hotel California" doesn't seem to be on the list?

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      What a great idea, to look for the darker side in song. I liked the other hub as well. I'm with dohn on the Chili Peppers, they've got it down perfectly.

    • elisabethkcmo profile image

      elisabethkcmo 8 years ago from Just East of Oz

      Great list, and thanks for including Rufus

    • dohn121 profile image

      dohn121 8 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

      To me, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are the epitome of a modern day California band: Their music is eclectic Californian-the beauty and the ugliness (mostly beauty) of California. Thank you so much for including them :D This hub and your previous hub on the songs of California identifies exactly what California is! Thanks!

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Looooved that "Midnight Train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight and the Pips! Well, maybe the poor guy knew what he was doing - ATL is booming with the movie industry thanks to the likes of Tyler Perry, et al!

      Songs are always a great hub. Yours is so well put together.

      Thanks a lot!