10.04-PALM DESERT (Van Dyke Parks)

Van Dyke Parks


By Palm Desert
To market to buy
Tenderfoot up to date
Palms of the real estate.
By Palm Desert
Springs often run dry.

        I came west unto Hollywood
        juxtaposed to BBD & O
        beyond San Fernando
        on hillside manors
        on the banks of toxicity
        those below and those above the same.

        Dreams are still born in Hollywood.
        (I don't understand.)
        Just suppose the youngster knows
        he's had a good deal of fortune
        and up through the babble
        on the fair banks complicity
        buy your leave or stay beyond the game.

                Palm Desert
                Not fade away.
                Palm Desert
                I wish I could stay.
                Palm Desert.
                Sages abound
                So head your head
                To the ground round.


        Meanwhile in the wild west of Hollywood
        age is losing hold
        inasmuch as you are touched
        to have withstood by the very old
        search for the truth within
        the bounds of toxicity
        left unsung so I have strung the frame.

                (Not fade away…
                I wish I could stay.
                Palm Desert
                So head your head to the ground round.)


According to Richard Henderson, Van Dyke Parks composed the majority of Song Cycle while living in a Palm Desert retreat, an outlying area of Los Angeles not far from the more famous Palm Springs. (The lyric of Palm Desert observes that in that town springs often run dry.) He was escaping the failure of the SMiLE project with Brian Wilson, but built on what he had learned from those sessions. Henderson observes (Song Cycle, p. 71) that he used throughout the album, but particularly in Palm Desert “one of Wilson’s favorite devices, creating new timbres via laminates of different instruments playing unison lines”. For example, the music accompanying the second melody (I came west unto Hollywood) features a French horn trio, a trio of saxophones and a trio of steel guitars, with a harmonica mixed on top of it all. With stereo in mind, Bruce Botnick placed the instruments to the left or right of the listener while leaving the center for percussion such as the wooden ratchet that one hears in the song’s final moments. Simulated bird calls sweep from side to side as if flying through the space during the break and coda.

The second melody evokes the Gold Diggers and the heyday of big musical numbers in Hollywood films. In the 1960s this would have been heard as kitsch (and probably is still heard as such more than forty years later), contributing to a “camp” aesthetic that was beginning to blossom among postmodern artists during that decade. Herein lies one of VDP’s most memorable puns: “Dreams are still born in Hollywood”, eluding to both the appeal of Hollywood to an aspiring southern composer and the aborted SMiLE project. Many of the lyrics in Palm Desert, as on the rest of the VDP compositions, are more a matter of wordplay than sense (I fail to understand, for instance, so head your head to the ground round, which Parks chose as a refrain), but one closing line seems aimed well at the pop scene in the late 1960s. It was a time when people were searching for the truth within / the bounds of toxicity, perhaps finding an equivalency between the smog of Los Angeles and the fog of creative minds addled with drugs, from whence much of America’s pop culture—music and movies and television--seemed to spring at the time.