REVIEW: From the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles was home to very uniquely North American and Californian music.
The canyon has long been a haven for artists and writers, being close to Hollywood and the Strip, but also an idyllic landscape full of trees, wildlife and a brilliant microclimate.
Frank Zappa may have been the first figure in popular music to settle in the canyon (although you put the words “Zappa” and “popular” in the same sentence with some trepidation).
In Zappa’s wake came – for the most part – the men who would become The Byrds, The Turtles, Buffalo Springfield, Love, The Monkees, The Mamas and the Papas and a host of other bands, some still legendary, some lost in the mists.
* Zappa: Doco a nice introduction to a unique character, his music and this era
* The Monkees: My sister might have the albums, but I had the car
* Peter Tork, quirky and endearing bassist and singer of the Monkees, dies at 77
* The Monkees melted my brain
* Celebrity sale: Lady Gaga buys Frank Zappa’s house in Laurel Canyon
Over two 80-minute episodes, Laurel canyon (now streaming on DocPlay) follows the evolution of this loose and cooperative group of friends and compatriots as they played, wrote, lived and loved in this unique vortex of affordability, adjacency and politics of the era.
Laurel Canyon was a bastion of idealism and creativity in an American decade that was externally defined by the Vietnam War, assassinations, and internal turmoil. It is no coincidence that many songs that still resonate today – of peace and protest – have all been written and recorded in these few years, over these few square kilometers.
Australian director Alison Ellwood (Catch hell) hangs its narrative through the memories and archives of photographers Henry Diltz and Nurit Wilde, both digging through their physical and metaphorical filing cabinets for the defining moments that led to the songs and collaborations. Some of them will absolutely make you want to have been a firefly on the wall, when Zappa had the Monkees for dinner Neil Young first met Joni Mitchell and David Crosby, Steven Stills and Graham Nash realized that they sounded pretty good when they sang. together. All of this happened in a few years in this small community.
The second part takes a darker turn, as the heyday of the 1960s – with Woodstock the mark of high water – collide with bitterness, cynicism and commercialism. Ellwood does little to challenge the accepted mythology that the 1960s “ended” in a brief storm of violence, corruption, drugs and paranoia, when there is surely another more nuanced version of the events to be recounted.
But, if the unholy trilogy of Manson, Altamont, and the Kent State shootings is still a handy shortcut for this era, then Ellwood at least effectively navigates the narrative. As someone says, at the start Laurel canyon, “We were the best band in our hometown so we moved to LA because that’s where the business was. But it turned out that the best group of all cities in America had the same idea ”.
This affordable, beautiful and connected place was the breeding ground for a whole ecosystem of music that is still very influential to this day. And, depending on what radio shows you listen to, it is still considered by some to be the end point of Western pop music. Like it or not, from Zappa to The Doors to the fucking Eagles, it started in Laurel Canyon. This two-part series is a mine of riches.