Based in Los Angeles, Jones and Waits may have been the West Coast counterparts of Smith and Mapplethorpe, who called New York home. Smith describes the dynamic metropolis and extraordinary times in stunning detail: “Nothing was more wonderful to me than Coney Island. with its gritty innocence. It was our kind of place: the fading arcades, the peeling signs of bygone days, cotton candy and Kewpie dolls on a stick...” The focus for all four of them was on the demimondes of their respective cities, along with almost everywhere they visited in between. It’s an aesthetic that’s edgy and suffused with pain.
A Smith melody addresses the philosophy of scraping by that she and Mapplethorpe adhered to: “Every night before I rest my head, / see those dollar bills go swirling 'round my bed./ I know they're stolen, but I don't feel bad./ I take that money, buy you things you never had.” Jones composed these lyrics: “Zero quit school/ and she lost her job again/ and then her boyfriend beat her up/ and now he won't let her in.” A snippet from a tango-flavored Waits song: “I like my town with a little drop of poison.”