The Fall and Rise of a Hollywood Expat

During last month’s end-of-the-semester Gradeathon, which is as painful but not as fun as the Climbathon, I spent a bunch of hours sitting at a few coffee shops around my Superfund site grading papers and exams. I like grading outside of the home and office for several reasons: it allows me to feel like a social being watching other “knowledge workers” do their thing, someone other than me makes me a fussy coffee, and I get to listen to something other than my stale music collection and esoteric podcasts.

One song I heard during my “residency” at Budin in Greenpoint was “Hollywood,” a song by Canadian singer Tobias Jesso, Jr. The song is very simple: it consists of almost all vocals and a few notes on the piano throughout the song, and it is punctuated by a few horn riffs at the end of piece. The lyrics are filled with agonizing feelings about Hollywood, apparently referencing some really difficult experiences Jesso had while making a go of it in Los Angeles some years ago.

And I don’t know if I can make it,
and I don’t know if I should,
I think I’ll say goodbye to Hollywood.

I don’t know if I can fake it,
if they tell me I’m no good,
I think I’m gonna fry in Hollywood.

It’s a lovely tune for what is a common refrain about struggling in Tinseltown and might make a suitable musical accompaniment for Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra, a 1928 silent film by Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapich. In 9413, an actor with dreams of stardom arrives in Hollywood only to find a series of rejections. Instead of stardom, 9413 is anonymous and disposable.

As I listened to Jesso’s “Hollywood,” I kept thinking of 9413.

Kino included a version of this film on the DVD set Avant Garde: Experimental Film of the 1920s and 1930s, which is the same as the one I embedded above (and linked here in case oEmbed stops working). The music is so grating and distracting I always try to watch it silent. “Hollywood” might be for a better soundtrack to accompany 9413, or at least it will make for something to keep in my head because the song is much shorter than the film.

But unlike 9413, Jesso’s prospects are looking bright. Earlier this week, he released a second song, “How Could You Babe.” He also has an album, Goon, in the work for release in March on Saint Patrick’s Day. And he’s touring, too. He’ll be in New York at Baby’s All Right on Friday, March 27.

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