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THE SoCAL SONGBOOK BY GEOFF BOUCHER

'L.A. Girl'

June 24, 2007|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

'L.A. Girl'

The Adolescents | 1981

TONY Brandenburg (better known to punk fans by the stage alias Tony Cadena), a baby-faced outsider with soulful eyes, walked through the corridors of Magnolia High School in Anaheim with the posture of a kid just waiting for the next punch. It was the late 1970s and the word had gotten around that Cadena fancied himself a singer. The razzing was merciless.

"One time these guys come to the rear of the class and push my desk up the wall while I'm sitting in it -- this in full view of the teacher -- and they told me, 'C'mon, choirboy, sing a song for us.' I was just trying to blend into the wall. I just wanted to not be seen."

But there was one person at Magnolia that Cadena did want to lock eyes with. She was a new girl, with heavy Hollywood punk makeup and jet-black hair. Her parents' divorce had landed her in Anaheim, and she detested it. Cadena was smitten. She wasn't.

"She made it very clear that I didn't breathe the same atmosphere as her. I was trying to tell her we were on the same page, that I was her only ally. But like pretty much all the girls then, she just thought I was a dork, an insect."

Cadena says that "like a Dostoevsky character" he was haunted by that slight and "while the other kids in class were doing work, I started scribbling lyrics." The result: "L.A. Girl," a landmark recording that Cadena would sing as the frontman of the Adolescents. Cadena calls it an "answer" to the Doors song "L.A. Woman."

Stuck in your world of dreams again

My life starts where your life ends

You've burned out, your battery has died

If it wasn't for O.C. your scene wouldn't be alive

L.A. girl, L.A. world

Don't tell us how to act, don't tell us what to wear

L.A. girl, L.A. world

You didn't create our scene

The song became an anthem for the disaffected, and its jarring tempo shift from fast-brash punk to heavy metal became a sonic signature for several West Coast bands.

"No one was doing that," Cadena said, "and the only reason we did is that we were trying to be middle-class punk, but half the band also wanted to be Black Sabbath. Through the years, it seemed to really echo with people. People like NOFX, the Offspring, Rancid, the drummer in No Doubt -- they have said how much it meant to them."

Cadena is back at school now; he is a third-grade teacher, and he smiles when he sees the "outsider" kids riding skateboards with Adolescent stickers. He wonders if he'll ever find out what happened to his old classmate. "That L.A. girl, she was only at our school for, like, three days. Then she was gone. I wonder if she ever put it together that I was that kid at Magnolia High. Probably not, though. She probably forgot me pretty quick."

--

geoff.boucher@latimes.com

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