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LAUREL CANYON by Michael Walker

LAUREL CANYON

The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood

By Michael Walker

Pub Date: May 2nd, 2006
ISBN: 0-571-21149-6
Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

An uninspired tribute to Laurel Canyon.

Pop-culture writer Walker (the New York Times, Rolling Stone, etc.) has a potentially interesting hook for an umpteenth recounting of the Los Angeles music scene of the late ’60s and ’70s: Rather than focus on the musicians or the music, Walker concentrates on the neighborhood where many of the key players set up house: laid-back, rustic Laurel Canyon, a sleepy idyll nestled above the hurly-burly of the city proper, where marijuana smoke and eucalyptus flavored the air and the sensitive strumming of singer-songwriters reverberated among the trees. The problem is that there is nothing much interesting about Laurel Canyon. Cheap rents and a bohemian atmosphere attracted the likes of the Byrds, Joni Mitchell, various members of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, the Eagles and Frank Zappa—who got high, played the guitar and hung out. Undoubtedly fun for them, but hardly riveting reading. Even the curiously high incidence of house fires fails to liven things up much. Walker writes passionately and well about the demimonde, but the smug, faintly toxic coziness of the “scene” quickly begins to pall. Groupies hold forth on the lifestyle, club owners and artist managers reminisce about the good times, Graham Nash rhapsodizes about the house he shared with Joni Mitchell, and it’s all a bit like listening to your parents tell their college stories. Unlike Swinging London, with its inherently dramatic generational conflict and cultural upheaval exploding from the stifled misery of post-war shortages and a crushing class system, this charmed corner of southern California was, in these pages, a mellow, contentedly bland paradise, Eden before the fall. One wishes for a serpent or two.

A nap also induces a peaceful, easy feeling.