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3 Makes a Trend: Laurel Canyon was righteous rock real estate

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An occasional blog feature highlighting trends that appear in at least three notable instances in pop culture ...

1. In the late '60s and into the '70s, the neighborhood in the scrubby hills just north of Los Angeles, dubbed Laurel Canyon, became an epicenter for America's post-folk rock and roll. Most of the people who came to define the easygoing sound of SoCal rock -- the Byrds, the Mamas & the Papas, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, the Doors, plus Crosby, Stills & Nash and others -- wound up living in the rustic cabins and cheap homes scattered around the area's winding lanes. They hung out together, they wandered down to the Sunset Strip to jam together, they signed business-changing record deals together.

A new documentary out today chronicles the formation and impact of the above-mentioned bands and a few more. "Legends of the Canyon" tells its story around the recollections of music photographer Henry Diltz, a former folkie who wound up as a lucky hanger-on through most of the Laurel Canyon scene. Featuring interviews with C, S and N, plus several other musicians, scenesters and music industry kingpins like Lenny Waronker (Warner Bros.) and David Geffen (who started Asylum, then later his own Geffen Records), "Legends of the Canyon" is a rose-tinted look back at the flowering of folk-rock and the anecdotes that created a scene and an industry. Graham Nash, Stephen Stills and David Crosby are the most intriguing interview subjects much of the time, with Crosby referring to the hood's creative scene as "yeasty" and discussing his two most admired guitar players in terms of creative tunings: Mitchell, and later instrumental genius Michael Hedges.

2. Coincidentally, I just finished reading Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Legendary Neighborhood by Michael Walker. It's a well-researched, considerably more focused look at the neighborhood itself, and how and why it bred that particular brand of music as the '60s became the '70s. "It was Brigadoon meets the Brill Building," Walker writes, but his account is less dreamy than the DVD documentary. "Just as [Dorothy] Parker and her cronies discredited and disregarded the lingering culture of the Victorian era, so too did the early rock-and-roll scene of Los Angeles in the 1960s set about dismantling the suffocating pop-cultural remnants of the 1950s."

Some interesting tidbits:


  • David Crosby met Joni Mitchell, fell in love, but knew everyone else would, too. And he knew how to introduce her to people. There are some great anecdotes about Crosby inviting people over or going to their houses, getting them nice and stoned, then having Joni make her entrance and play some songs. She sounds beautiful when you're sober; everyone was knocked out when they were high.

  • I love this helpful linguistic distinction from Pamela Des Barres: "A hippie was sort of the unwashed, unkempt kid. A freak was someone who put a lot of care and intention into their appearance, wanting to stand out instead of blend in."

  • The Charles Manson murder spree in 1969 killed the neighborhood's free spirit almost overnight. "The next day, across Laurel Canyon," Walker writes, "you could practically hear bolts snapping into place behind doors that for the past five years had gone unlocked day and night."

  • A bit of trivia I'd forgotten: CSNY's gig at Woodstock was their second time playing together. Their first was two nights before, Aug. 16, 1969 -- two shows at Chicago's Auditorium Theater, with joni Mitchell opening.

  • Anecdotes like this: John Lennon walking out of the Troubadour with a Kotex stuck to his forehead.

3. A new band, Dawes, which played a great set at this summer's Pitchfork Music Festival here, is consistently described in terms of having that old "Laurel Canyon sound." They even titled their debut CD "North Hills," referring to the canyon. This mostly applies to their laconic, long-legged country-rock stride, with a guitarist recalling the finer licks of Waddy Wachtel and a singer, Taylor Goldsmith, thus far employing the best tricks from Don Henley's beginnings with the Eagles. "Anyone making something new only breaks something else" he sings in "When My Times Comes." Here's their very Canyon-ish tune, "Love Is All I Am":

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on August 31, 2010 11:00 AM.

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