My next-door neighbor flagged me down recently to enthuse that the California State Song brought back memories of childhood hikes in the Alps.
I wondered what in the world she was talking about.
Turns out the official Golden State tune isn't the jaunty Al Jolson vehicle "California, Here I Come." Nor is it the Mamas and the Papas' haunting classic "California Dreamin'," which could as easily have been called "California, Here I'd Like To Come."
Also lacking theme-worthiness, apparently, are the hundreds of songs called simply "California," penned by such scribes as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and the Kooks.
No, our official State Song is "I Love You, California," now serving its 100th year in that lofty role. With lyrics by L.A. clothier Francis Bernard Silverwood and music by conductor Abraham Franklin Frankenstein, it was introduced by opera superstar Mary Garden in 1913.
"I Love You, California" does display a certain mannered charm. But as Dick Clark might have said, you can't dance to it. More specifically, it doesn't comport with the West Coast Swing Dance, the official state dance. Nor does it square with the Square Dance, California's official state folk dance.
Still, Grapestaters deserve better. My former colleague Marc Haefele, an expert on many things, wonders about the choice of a clothier to write the lyrics, asking, "Would you buy a suit from Stephen Foster?"
If "I Love You California" is an exercise in sap, things could be worse, much worse. In 1921, it beat back a challenge from "California, Sweet Homeland of Mine," which, to the contemporary listener, manages to conjure the Exxon Valdez: "You're the land at the foot of the rainbow/Where the great pot of treasure was spilled."
"All Hail to Massachusetts" doesn't quite succeed in making our mouths water when it rhapsodizes, "All hail to grand old Bay State, the home of the bean and the cod." Harry Truman, one of our most musical presidents, remarked that his home state's State Song, "Missouri Waltz," was "as bad as 'The Star Spangled Banner' as far as music is concerned."
The glorification of war in "Star Spangled Banner" is often reflected in official state ditties. South Carolina's "Carolina" asks its residents to, "Hold up the glories of thy dead; say how thy elder children bled." Maryland's martial monstrosity, written in 1861, proclaims that the Old Line State, "Is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb/Huzza! She spurns the Northern scum!" That these words are sung to the tune of "O Tanenbaum" proves once and for all that fact is stranger than fiction.
The theme songs of some fighting forces are less violent. Take "We're All American," the theme of the 82nd Airborne Division, written by my dad, Carl Sigman, during WWII. Its playful Tin Pan Alley rhymes are present from the outset -- "Put on your boots, boots, boots and para chute chute chutes" -- and remain through the refrain, "Make your jumps/take your bumps."
Rock and roll has had a monumental impact on American culture, but has yet to crack the state song racket. "Louie Louie," one of rock's all time most rug-cuttable numbers, nearly became the official song of Washington State some years back, but it didn't make the cut.
If you've heard "I Love You California" at all, chances are it's from a Jeep commercial. Has the moment arrived to dream up a more up-to-date theme? Perhaps something along the lines of, "Home costs up-up-upped/ Now we're bank-rupt-rupt-rupt." Or "Why be a grump/It's just a slump."
Give us your favorite line for a new California state song in the comments section below.