Essay / Misc.

Broken Like Brooklyn

duke of flatbush

Here is the latest song by Terry Scott Taylor. He played it at a small concert last week and I can’t get it out of my head. He’s written dozens of songs that show him to be a Californian with deep roots in this region which seems rootless and placeless, and I know he’s been reflecting on the Californian mythos more intensely in the past few years. His 1998 album John Wayne (named for the Orange County airport) was subtitled “Orange Grotesques,” for example, and his 2000 solo album was about the Avocado Faultline. But in this latest song, “Broken Like Brooklyn” from the soon-to-be-released Lost Dogs Album The Lost Cabin and the Mystery Trees, Terry has set himself the task of thinking about his native California from a long way off: from New York. Having given himself that assignment, he has fastened on the perfect way to carry it out: by pondering the Dodgers’ move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and singing from the point of view of a New Yorker who feels the dislocation deeply. California’s big with myth in this song: not only do rivers get lassoed as in tall tales, but the Rose Bowl gets filled with guacamole! And an east coast soul yearns for the golden land of California boosterism, where everything’s new and big and unsullied. Instead of deflating California hype from within, this song draws you in to the melancholy of the western dream and makes you feel the whole country’s midcentury complicity in it. It also manages to make me nostalgic for a New York baseball team I have never cared about, and links it back behind the twentieth century with the “trolley dodging” line.

I make no guarantees that these lyrics are perfectly accurate, but I wanted to be the first to break the lyrics of a new Terry Taylor song on my blog. So here’s what I heard of “Broken Like Brooklyn.”

Once I dreamed I was Ponce de Leon
I’d grown so bitter and cold
You whispered, “Baby, I am Eureka
Without any redwoods or gold.”

So together we packed up the Airstream,
With Pepsis, Pall Malls, and Moon Pies
We lassoed the San Joaquin River
And I went along for the ride.

I dreamed faith was our precious cargo
Determination our boat
We sailed straight on through troubled waters
And around the Cape of Good Hope

Then we dressed ourselves in fringed buckskins
Having leveled that brownstone of ours
Beneath the Palos Colorados
We slept ‘neath a blanket of stars

Woke up broken like Brooklyn
The year the bums left
In the Bronx on a cold day
While our boys tan out west

Now we fly over junk yards and factories
Denny’s and transient hotels
Above the churches and bars and video stores
Black smoke and slaughterhouse smells

Touching down in the golden Sierras
We ate spinach quiches grown there
I wove a crown of boysenberries
Through your lemon-scented hair

While girls in bikinis and snow skis
In the desert cashed in their chips
Then filled the rose bowl with guacamole
We took our clothes off and went for a dip

Thought that we might go trolley Dodging
After reading a policeman his rights
Then we followed the Duke of Flatbush
And scaled the Boyle Heights

Woke up broken like Brooklyn
The year the bums left
In the Bronx on a cold day
While our boys tan out west

Always broken like Brooklyn
After losing the best
Old sunbleached bleachers and pennants
Stole the hearts from our chest

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