Robert Ellis has a moon suit. Or a cosmic suit. Or, whatever you want to call it, the kind of suit that demands more than a cursory glance. In the opening of his “California” video, it’s one of the first thing you see, right after the carousel lights and the initially lit-up faces of two lovers approaching one another. One character is played by Ellis, the other, by a woman who is actually the main character of the song.
Sometimes when men write songs from the perspective of women it annoys the hell out of me, they don’t write the woman as a full-fledged character, or they just tell stories that don’t really resonate with my lived female experience. That is not the case with “California.” It is one of the best songs written by a man from the perspective of a woman that I’ve ever heard, and in it reminds me of the way Saul Bellow unflinchingly writes realistic female characters that aren’t weak or petty, but complicated, messy, and strong.
The video came out a couple weeks ago, and Ellis’ self-titled album that the track is on came out in June, but despite the lapsed time I can’t get it out of my head. The chorus is a breathtakingly bitter declaration:
“Maybe I’ll move to California / With the unbroken part of my heart I still have left / Maybe I’ll fall in love again someday / I’m not gonna hold my breath.”
It’s hardly the first time I’ve heard the song, but I heard him do it live for the first time earlier this summer at a music festival in Appleton, Wisconsin, right before I myself did what the main character threatens, packed up everything I owned, and moved to California with whatever unbroken parts of my heart I could scrape together.
Hearing it in Wisconsin, and again when the video came out, made the pain behind the track hit me all over again. Ellis has played versions of “California” since as early as last year when he performed it for KUTX in Austin, Texas under the name “Maybe I’ll Move To California,” but whether you’re someone who is still in the threatening stages of a cross-country move, or currently in the thick of it, it’s a welcome reminder that escape is always around the corner — and that most of us feel that urge once or twice in our lives.
The video chronicles a relationship unraveling, but still, it’s not totally hopeless; the mirage of California — or whatever your own escape hatch might be — lingers on. Watch the clip above and stream Ellis’ full album below.