The Thingz (Part Two) – Flem Snopes and Imperial Beach

MONDAY, June 24, 2013

Yesterday, Linda and I drove down to Imperial Beach to see my mother. Technically, she doesn’t live in Imperial Beach anymore. The far eastern portion of the “most southwesterly city in the United States” was annexed by San Diego a couple of decades ago, but the house I lived in when I graduated from high school was in Imperial Beach in the mid-1960s and it’s hard for me to think of it as otherwise.

On the way down, Linda and I listened to several CDs, a couple of old favorites (Bob Dylan’s LOVE AND THEFT; Dire Straits BROTHERS IN ARMS). We also played the first album by The Thingz. Much to my surprise, one of the songs contained a reference to Imperial Beach. It’s one thing for Patti Smith to entitle a song “Redondo Beach”; it’s near enough Los Angeles to have some of L.A.’s peripheral aura adhere to RB’s reclusive sense of self-possessiveness. Imperial Beach, on the other hand, has no access to anything other than military culture whatsoever, and no one who lives in San Diego has any interest in pretending otherwise.  To have the closest thing I ever had in my peripatetic childhood to a hometown mentioned in a pop song, therefore, caught me completely off-guard. The song, “Wine Country Safari,” begins in Long Beach:


Made a wrong turn on 10th street

And I lost my way

Turned down a blind alley

Heard someone say


wine country safari

wine country safari

you’re in whine country

where the winos go


drove down the 5 freeway

nothing else to do

ended up in Imperial Beach

guess I missed the zoo.


But it wasn’t the mention of Imperial Beach that made me want to photocopy the lyric sheet and pass it around to my colleagues in Literature at CSULB. Right next to “Wine Country Safari” is a song entitled “Flem Snopes.” I would have loved to have heard that song this past Saturday, and I hope The Thingz will consider it a personal request to play this song at their next concert.

For those who have yet to visit Imperial Beach, I would recommend digging into the New York Times archives for an article in 2002 on bow and arrow fishing from the public pier in Imperial Beach. In the third paragraph, the reporter cited “the town’s rough-and-tumble character.” When I read the article a little over ten years ago, I wondered what terms the reporter would have used to describe the city back in the 1960s, when “rough-and-tumble” would have been taken as an insult that demeaned the city’s well-earned nickname of “Whiskey Flats.” The reporter obviously had no idea of how far up the food chain the city had climbed in order to achieve the status of “rough-and-tumble.” As for imagining a story about a person who might run a bait shop on the pier, by the way, why not make use of a little loan from William Faulkner, in the song I mentioned above?

Here’s the link:

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