on 20 October 2008
I purchased this book because I have an interest in the music that arose from West Coast California in the late Sixties/Seventies.
I was born in '70, and have lived in England for most of my life, so the area covered in this book is technically 'foreign territory' for me, but as an artist and a musician I have always loved the golden glow of pastoral idyllic life that seems to permeate through the albums of Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, the Eagles and a host of others from those 'hippy' decades.
Discovering, as I did a while ago, that these figures lived and worked in close proximity to one another was a revelation for me, so too when I heard Graham Nash describe the Laurel Canyon scene in its heyday as being like 'Paris in the 20's', a rich fervent ground of bohemian creativity, artists buzzing, changing the face of contemporary culture worldwide.
Against this backdrop, this book appealed.
It describes, in painstakingly factual detail, the Canyon, its history, the rise of the Sixties scene in the wake of the Beatles, the place of drugs in that scene, the rise of the folk/rock/country music L.A. sound, some of the complex relationships between Zappa, The Mamas and Papas, The Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, CSN, The Doors, The Eagles, Elliot Roberts, David Geffen and a host of interconnected others who lived in and frequented the Canyon; the massive wealth and international stardom that came to many of its residents; the money, the cocaine, the parties, the fun, the L.A. venues, and ultimately the demise of the Canyon's artistic brilliance into drug abuse (rather than use), debauchery, sex, sleaze, crime, culminating in the Manson and Wonderland murders which signaled the end of this era.
It was a fascinating read. Slightly overly comprehensive in the thoroughness and meticulousness of its research perhaps, but it filled in many gaps in my knowledge. Now when I listen to Mitchell's 'Ladies of the Canyon' I am better informed of the context, know that the album cover depicts the view from the window of her house there, recognise the references in the songs...when I hear 'Our House' I understand that Graham Nash really did light the fire that day and that Joni really did buy a vase and that they really did live with two cats in the yard whilst fighting over who was going to exert their creativity on the piano. I get a glimpse of how incredibly exciting it must have been to live in those times, to have been there rubbing shoulders with Clapton, Mayall, Lennon, Morrison, Stills, Mitchell, to have seen Led Zeppelin rocking in their all their glory in L.A. in the early Seventies. There are snapshots of how extraordinary it must have been to have been a part of that scene, the clothes, the drugs, the women, the lifestyles, the 'Peace and Love generation' at its height, before things turned dark and sour, peace morphing into punk, money mutating artistic purity/innocence into decadence and an emphasis on commerciality, (as evidenced in the '80's).
All in all, a worthwhile read with a great cover. Many, many people have asked to read it after me. The only criticism I have is that I found myself flagging towards the end, bowled over by the exhaustive research!