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Book Review: Laurel Canyon

The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Legendary Neighborhood

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


Book Review: Laurel Canyon

©2006 by Michael Walker, published by Faber and Faber, Inc.

During the ‘60s and ‘70s, rock music had several geographic epicenters. There was Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, the Brill Building in New York City, and Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles. The latter is the title and subject of a new book by Michael Walker, who happens to live in Laurel Canyon, and who writes about pop culture.

Who's Who

Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood takes us on a guided tour of the onetime musical enclave that Walker describes as “the slightly seedy, camp-like neighborhood of serpentine one-lane roads, precipitous hills, fragrant eucalyptus trees, and softly crumbling bungalows set down improbably in the middle of Los Angeles.”

Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash lived there, in the cottage that inspired Nash to write “Our House” and in which Nash, David Crosby and Stephen Stills sang together for the first time.

Frank Zappa lived there, in a log cabin with a bowling alley in the basement. Cass Elliott lived up to her nickname of “Mama” to Canyon denizens who regularly gathered at her house.

Jackson Browne. Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. Don Henley and Glen Frey of Eagles. Robby Kreiger and John Densmore of The Doors. Mark Volman of The Turtles. These are just a few of the people who came and stayed for a while in Laurel Canyon on their way to rock stardom.

No Dragons Allowed

Joni Mitchell's cottage in Laurel Canyon was "Our House" in the Crosby, Stills & Nash song

(Photo by Henry Diltz)

“A hypothetical map of Los Angeles drawn by a canyonite in the fashion of ancient mariners might have noted ‘here be dragons’ almost anywhere but the canyon,” Walker writes. He says his goal was to write a book that would “bear some semblance to the shambling nature of the canyon itself.”

There are graphic depictions of the effects of the drug abuse that was a way of life for most canyonites. There was the chilling effect that the murder spree of the followers of Charles Manson – once a Canyon resident and aspiring rock star himself – had on the serenity of Laurel Canyon. There was the rough and tumble world of record labels, managers, and concert promoters that spilled over from just outside the canyon’s figurative gates.

As befits the author’s credentials, the book is less about day-to-day-life in Laurel Canyon (although there is a good measure of that) and more about its effect on American culture, and of American culture on it. The book’s chapters are arranged not so much in chronological order of events, but more as groupings of people and events that intertwined and influenced one another over the decades of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Bottom Line

Although Walker sometimes lapses into lengthy treatises on the cultural significance of people and events both inside and outside Laurel Canyon, the book is a largely pleasurable read. The author manages to convey the moods, thoughts and feelings as well as he does the sights, sounds and smells of the place that eventually couldn’t keep the dragons out any longer.

Who Should Read Laurel Canyon

  • Anyone who likes to know the back stories and behind-the-scenes machinations of the music world
  • Fans of the singer-songwriter dominated music that emanated from Laurel Canyon
  • Students (actual or figurative) of pop culture, and rock music’s role in it

The Turtles, 1969, amid canyon eucalyptus.

(Photo by Henry Diltz)
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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