There's a part of the country could drop off tomorrow in an earthquake,
Yeah, it's out there on the cutting edge, the people move, the sidewalks shake.
And there's another part of the country with a land that gently creaks and thuds,
Where the heavy snows make faucets leak in bathrooms with free-standing tubs.
They're in houses that are haunted, the with kids who lie awake and think about
All the generations past who used to use that dripping sink.

And sometimes one place wants to slip into the other just to see
What it's like to trade its demons for the restless ghost of Mrs. Ogilvey,
She used to pick the mint from her front yard to dress the Sunday pork,
Sometimes southern California wants to be western New York.

It wants to have a family business in sheet metal or power tools,
It wants to have a diner where the coffee tastes like diesel fuel,
And it wants to find the glory of a town they say has hit the skids,
And it wants to have a snow day that will turn its parents into kids,
And it's embarrassed, but it's lusting after a SUNY student with mousy brown hair who is
Taking out the compost, making coffee in long underwear.

And southern California says to save a place, I'll meet you there,
And it tried to pack up its Miata, all it could fit was a prayer,
Sometimes the stakes are bogus, sometimes the fast lane hits a fork,
Sometimes southern California wants to be western New York.

Tempe, Arizona thinks the Everglades are greener and wetter,
And Washington, D.C. thinks that Atlanta integrated better,
But I think that southern California has more pain that we can say,
'Cause it wants to travel back in time, but it just can't leave L.A.

But now I hear they've got a theme park planned, designed to make you gasp and say,
Oh, I bet that crumbling mill town was a booming mill town in its day,
And the old investors scoff at this, but the young ones hope they'll take a chance,
And they promise it will make more dough than Mickey Mouse in northern France,
And the planners planned an opening day, a town historian will host,
And the waitresses look like waitresses who want to leave for the west coast.

And they'll have puttering on rainy weekends, autumn days that make you feel sad,
They'll have hundred year old plumbing and the family you never had,
And a Hudson River clean-up concert and a bundle-bearing stork,
And I hear they've got a menu planned, it's trés western New York.

Lyrics submitted by aur0ra

Southern California Wants to Be Western New York Lyrics as written by Dar Williams

Lyrics © BMG Rights Management

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Southern California Wants to Be Western New York song meanings
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  • +1
    General Comment

    First of all, why would WESTERN NY have a Hudson River clean-up? Somebody please buy the woman an atlas!

    Sorry, stuff like that bugs me. :P

    But anyway, I think the "grass is always greener" thing is a part of it, but I also think this song is about glamor and surface beauty vs. history (all those references to ghosts and haunted houses!) and a sort of authenticity.

    The song opens with SoCal in danger of falling into the ocean; for all the Hollywood mythology, all the perceived fabulousness, it's all so transient and unstable. And phony: in the last verse SoCal tries to compensate by setting up an ersatz "theme park" of WNY! Whereas Western NY is solid, weighted down by "heavy snows" and a deep sense of history...even if that history is so romanticized because it's better than the present, as with all those rust-belt towns that have "hit the skids."

    This song is pointing out the value of all that history and the sense of community, even though our culture doesn't always recognize it: "Sometimes the stakes are bogus, sometimes the fast lane hits a fork..." Sometimes what we think we want isn't as satisfying as we expected it to be.

    gravity_defianton April 01, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    Well, seeing as how I live in WNY, no, SoCal, please, NEVER ever wish you were WNY. SUNY blows, trust me on that one too. wow, this is just weird. I find it kind of ironic in the fact that I wish I was in SoCal every day of my life...

    EmoChicaKon April 02, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    The grass is always greener on the other side....

    sakeboxon April 11, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    Everybody wants to be someone else, but they miss the big picture that they should be happy with what they have.

    VampedVixenon November 06, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    Because it's theme park planners not being very careful about geography? It's cute, not accurate.

    I think that the song is ironic. The California Myth a la the Beach Boys, Annete Funicello and Frankie Avalon, The OC - Dar Williams turns that around. What if western New York were the ideal? She gives all these snapshots of New York, like diner coffee, and a weekly meal of pork on sunday, always served with mint, creaking houses full of age. There are very few references to things specific to the stereotypical SC, only the Miata. None of the usual fun-on-the-beach, Hollywood glamour, finding oneself in California that fills so many other pop songs. She turns the cliche around to a part of the country that no one idealizes, sad old western New York, forgotten, but still steeped in New England. The inverse cliche mocks itself, though, when typical WNY waitresses are characterized as looking liek they "want to leave for the west coast," even if (by gravity defiant's measure) they are already in California.

    mercyonmeon July 09, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    the last song I wrote is a little on the vague side. It’s called “Southern California wants to be Western New York,” and it’s clever, I think; top-heavy, too filled with little clever-isms and too little lasting value. So I’m afraid I may have to jettison it. I think an audience member has to do too much footwork to keep up with it. To do all that to keep up with a song that, inevitably, is just clever, I think is too much. You’re always concerned about whether you’re compromising yourself, whether you’re honest, whether you’re evolving, if you’re afraid to evolve. So I have the confidence that I don’t really like thinking in clichés, that I prefer to write songs from a place where I have some perspective, some valuable reflection.”

    pnkseashelon January 16, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    Thanks for the quote, pnkseashel.

    Her impression of this song sounds a bit like mine, which is that, while some of its lines are brilliantly acute: in the end, there's simply too much irony and too many references and too many words period to fit into 4:11. She's showing off on this one, and like the more over-the-top work of Michael Moore or Cindy Sheehan, it ultimately shoots itself in the foot.

    No matter. She's got a healthy body of work that does not suffer from this problem, and it's to be celebrated.

    raffishtenant2on July 10, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    One funny thing that I just noticed is that the reason the Disney France failed is because they ignored the culture of France - or rather stereotyped and misinterpreted it and set it to the side after pretending to acknowledge it. This new theme park for SoCal where they sell it another culture without really getting to know what it wants and what motivates it is very similar to Disney marching into France and selling them the American culture. Maybe this song was just a parody of Disney France the whole time.

    dartishaon March 14, 2008   Link

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