Certain Songs #1112: Matthew Sweet – “Smog Moon”

Album: 100% Fun
Year: 1995

Brendan O’Brien – Piano
Greg Leisz – Electric Lap Steel Guitar
Ric Menck – Drums

There are some songs that absolutely bring me back to a specific time and place every single time I hear them. “Smog Moon” is one of those songs.

There’s a smog moon in the amber sky
Wavering and burning like a golden lie
I fell so far
I didn’t think I’d make it back

It was the spring of 1995, I was living in Oakland, while Rox & Jimmy were living in an apartment on Hollywood Boulevard about a half mile from what you think about when you hear the word “Hollywood.” At that point Rox & I were flying back and forth on Southwest or United a couple of times a month — I remember one time Southwest had a special where it like $40 for a round-trip flight, and another time where United let me sit in First Class, for free! — both trying to make sense of our new lives in these uncaring major metropolitan areas.

We are all made, as an afterthought
Destined to believe that we are
What we are not
I’m afraid, but I don’t need to tell you that

And so when I made my trips to Hollywood for the drinking and eating and screwing and shopping — there were so many amazing record stores: Arons and Rockaway and Penny Lane and Poobah — all I could think was “Los Angeles is so confusing, it makes no sense whatsoever.” I couldn’t imagine ever living there, even with all of the record stores.

There’s a lost man, with a bitter soul
Only for a moment,
Did life make him whole
And while he was, he thought he was invincible

And so into all of this came 100% Fun, which started with “Sick of Myself,” and ended with the the contextually perfect “Smog Moon,” — even if it’s not specifically about Los Angeles, it’s totally and completely about Los Angeles.

Especially that chorus, which is one of the most achingly lovely things on god’s green earth.

There’s a smog moon coming I can always feel it
The cartoon trees cannot conceal it
When it’s high up in the sky
It almost looks like it is white
When it’s high up in the sky
It almost looks like
It is white

And while the verses are slow, full of piano, with Ric Menck playing the rim of his snare, the guitars rise up for the chorus, Matthew Sweet piles on the overdubs and the overall effect is overwhelming.

We played the fuck out of 100% Fun that spring and summer: especially at Rox & Jimmy’s apartment or while driving around Los Angeles in Rox’s Mustang, discovering places like Musso & Frank’s or drinking the peyote margaritas at Casa de Escobar, me consulting a Thomas Guide every few seconds because nothing about how the streets worked in L.A. made any damn sense, Rox singing along when she didn’t think anybody else was paying attention, me not caring if anybody was, all of us literally at the exact cusp of our old lives becoming our new lives. With Matthew Sweet as the soundtrack.

And the dark night, has the strongest pull
We both know that staying young can take its toll
Are you afraid of finding out you’re over that?

The irony, of course, is that after an interlude where she joined me in Oakland, Rox & I ended up in Los Angeles — Jimmy got away for awhile, but ended up returning — and after 16 years of living here and looking at countless smog moons, I’m sure as shit glad that we did.

“Smog Moon” is probably my favorite Matthew Sweet song, is probably Rox’s favorite Matthew Sweet song and is probably Jimmy’s favorite Matthew Sweet song — I’ll confirm the next time we have lunch at Musso & Franks — and more so than even Girlfriend is the reason that Matthew Sweet is getting so much attention in Certain Songs.

When it’s high up in the sky, it almost looks like it is white.

“Smog Moon”

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