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THE SoCAL SONGBOOK

`Van Nuys (es Very Nice)' Los Abandoned | 2004

October 29, 2006|Geoff Boucher

NEVER underestimate the eerie power of daytime television combined with cough syrup. Take the case of Lady P (Pilar Diaz), the lead singer of the alt-Latino band Los Abandoned, who penned the evocative images of "Van Nuys (es Very Nice)" while laid up at home with a bad bug and a remote control.

On TV she saw a news broadcast with reports on a scowling celebrity defendant at the courthouse, a strip mall gutted by fire and a hapless teen who had stolen his teacher's car for his prom night transportation. All three stories were from Van Nuys, Lady P's longtime home.

It didn't take her long to reach for her notebook and jot down the news of the day along with snapshots from her memory as a Chilean growing up local. Like the sound of L.A. sidewalks, the song flips between languages.

The upper-lower middle class

that you can only find here has

gente con muchos acentos viven en apartamentos

The summer's hot, it's hell the bus is always late,

The great big cloud of smog that makes you choke and hate ...

Y dejaste tu pais por esto?"

The first line in Spanish is about apartment complexes crowded with different accents, the latter is a melancholy question: "And you left your country for this?" The song ends with another pained line: "Dejaste los Andes por el cemento y los swimming pools." It translates to: "You left the Andes for concrete and swimming pools." All of this is delivered with Ramones-like guitars and a Go-go's sense of buoyancy.

Los Abandoned has become a celebrated and quirky voice locally, and the reaction to the lament of "Van Nuys" has been a mixed one. Van Nuys Middle School allowed students to appear in a music video for the local youth anthem, but Lady P also has heard from people who thought the lyrics were too disparaging. "It's not me standing up for Van Nuys or me making fun of it," says Lady P. "It's just what I see and hear."

The title isn't quite what it seems either. The "Very Nice" of the title is a sarcastic gesture to the way cholos refer, in the slow rasp of gang talk, to Van Nuys by its sound-a-like nickname "Very Nice." "I heard that one day on the radio while I was driving by Echo Park," Lady P notes. "And I said, 'That's it!' It's all there now."

-- Geoff Boucher

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