Interest in Laurel Canyon as a sound, a place and a state of mind seems undiminished by the passage of time. For me, it’s like a river running through my taste in music, a sound and a feel I always come back to even though I was still a child when the artists who lived there, or associated with those that did, were at the height of their creativity. Two recent documentaries have explored the history of the place from different perspectives – the excellent two-part Laurel Canyon, and Echo in the Canyon fronted by Jakob Dylan and other younger artists captivated by the sound.
There are other documentaries available for those like me with more than a passing interest. Legends of the Canyon narrated by Henry Diltz, photographer to the stars, came out in 2010 but never got a UK release – it’s very good, by the way. Troubadours: the Rise of the Singer-Songwriter focuses on Carole King, James Taylor and the Troubadour club but covers a lot of the same ground and artists. There are inevitably numerous rock docs on individuals, of which the recent Remember My Name (David Crosby) and The Byrd Who Flew Alone (Gene Clark) are particularly noteworthy.
Books abound too, and Hotel California by Barney Hoskyns and Laurel Canyon by Michael Walker are both solid reads. Harvey Kubernik’s Canyon of Dreams has been around for a while, but is now out of print and sells for silly money on eBay. It takes a sweeping approach, but is heavy on pictures and light on analysis, nicely produced but best avoided except for completists prepared to take out a second mortgage.
For me, it’s very poignant that the Laurel Canyon mystique of the late 60s and early 70s is now so distant in time. So many of the artists who defined the era are lost to us; all those that remain are very much in the twilight of their years. Some, like David Crosby and Jackson Browne are still producing material on a par with their very best. We should cherish them while we still can as the last of their kind.
The Americana UK website has recently published its ‘essential’ 10 albums that define the genre. It’s worth a read.
So, if push came to shove, what would be the song or album that encapsulates the Laurel Canyon sound for you? It’s an almost impossible choice, but for me it would probably have to be this. (See comment below).