The Celebrity Cattiness that Inspired “Old School Hollywood” by System of a Down

Although Hollywood has always held a particular allure for people from outside of its fabled environment, there’s plenty of grit to be found beneath the glitter. Some of the members of Armenian-American heavy metal band System of a Down grew up in Hollywood and witnessed the seedier side of the city. While famous celebrities are tucked away in their Hollywood Hills mansions, the average person in the city, especially in the 1980s and ‘90s, saw the prostitutes, homelessness, and tourist traps that truly defined that area. Some of that imagery has showed up in System lyrics, including “Lost in Hollywood.”

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On the group’s fourth album, the 2005 double-Platinum release Mezmerize, there’s a song called “Old School Hollywood” that was inspired by an event guitarist Daron Malakian participated in almost two years earlier in August 2003 at Dodger Stadium. It was the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 45th Annual Hollywood Stars game that took place before the Dodgers played the Chicago Cubs that night.

“I’ve been going to Dodgers games since I was a kid,” Malakian said prior to the game. “I can’t believe I’m going to take batting practice and play baseball on the field at Dodger Stadium. This really is a dream come true for me.”

A Strange Trip Indeed

That dream, however, turned out to be a strange trip in the end. There were a lot of famous celebrities who also participated in the game, including Norm Macdonald, Tom Arnold, Kevin James, and Jimmy Kimmel. It seems many of the older attendees were evidently arrogant and more full of themselves than they should have been. It’s clear that Malakian didn’t really enjoy the event too much and in the lyrics, he called out certain people whom he was especially unamused by.

Tony Danza cuts in line
Old school Hollywood, washed up Hollywood
Standing in the sun I’m wasting my time
Old school Hollywood, washed up Hollywood

Old school Hollywood, baseball
Jack Gilardi’s ten feet tall
Old school Hollywood, baseball
Me and Frankie Avalon

“I played for about two seconds in the game,” Malakian said in an interview after the experience. “No one knew who I was. They were looking at me like, ‘Who is this guy?’ But I don’t think that Frankie Avalon is the biggest System of a Down fan.”

The song is a classic System mash-up: a synth and vocoder intro, heavy riffs, and vocal trade-offs between Malakian and frontman Serj Tankian. It’s got a melodic ‘80s hard rock vibe given a 2000s facelift. There’s certainly a sarcastic attitude coming from Malakian when he sings his lines, and the vocoder moments imbue those words with an old school sci-fi quality that is fitting for the song.

Catching the Influences

During a 2008 interview with the L.A. Times that took place at Dodger Stadium, Malakian recalled, “I wrote a song for System called ‘Old School Hollywood Baseball’ that was inspired by this place. I played baseball here, and I went home and I picked up my guitar, and bam, it came out. . . . You’ve just got to catch the influences when they come at you. Every song I’ve written is luck, I think, it’s luck – ‘How did that just happen?’”

It’s too bad the experience was not so great for Malakian. At least he got one of Mezmerize’s most memorable tracks out of the deal. Perhaps some members of old school Hollywood might not like the diss track, but it seems they didn’t care to know who the System guitarist was. It does indicate something else, however—American life is often a lot like high school.

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Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ABA

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