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World Class?

Houston can't join the ranks of other cities until it has an anthem of its own

A life spent in clotted city arteries is poorly suited to creativity. Great songs about places come from intimate knowledge of their nooks and crannies, the sort that can be attained only by walking and thinking. Stewing on the Katy Freeway in a stagnant sea of SUVs does not allow for the leisure of thought necessary to compose a municipal anthem. Great songs ride on shoe leather, not steel-belts, unless the writer's car is on the open road.

It was just such a traffic jam, though, that gave rise to a memorable song condemning Los Angeles. And now -- irony of ironies -- Guy Clark's "L.A. Freeway," written in 1972 by a then-homesick Houstonian about his longing to escape L.A.'s urban horrors back to the Bayou City's bucolic charms, perhaps best sums up the Houston of 2001. I proposed this to Clark recently. "You know, I never thought about it that way," he said with a laugh. "When I wrote the song, I was living in L.A. and wanting to get back to Houston. There may be a Houston vibe in the song, but it was specifically about L.A. But then I will tell you this: I'll never live in Houston again. It's just crazy down there. You know, I always thought Townes summed it up for me when he wrote, 'It's bad news from Houston, half my friends are dyin'.' "

Whatever Clark's intentions at the time, his song's references to copious concrete, irritating landlords and traffic jams have to strike a chord with many here now, even though the gibes were slung at L.A. It's just too bad that the song that could serve as a local anthem was written about another city, one that Houston is bent on becoming.

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