Harvey Kubernik, the author of this beautifully produced opus just published by Sterling Publishing, has resided in Laurel Canyon all his life. Kubernik is a music historian and pop culture archivist as well as a respected veteran music writer with credits in, to name a few, Melody Maker, Musician, The Los Angeles Times, and MOJO. Formerly West Coast Director of A&R for MCA Records, Kubernik has been a record producer for thirty years. He is also the author of Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music in Film and On Your Screen (2007) and This is Rebel Music: The Harvey Kubernik Interviews (2004).
"Laurel Canyon was the place where you ran away from your parents, hid from authorities, wrote music, books, screenplays, and hung with bands, chart-toppers, and pretenders," says Kubernik in the book's introduction. "It was where Los Angeles and Hollywood met in a rollicking soul shake."
Yes, indeed. From Sonny and Cher to the Doors to the Byrds to Buffalo Springfield to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to the Turtles to Canned Heat to the Monkees to Frank Zappa to Jackson Browne to the Eagles to Carole King to Little Feat to Bobby Womack to Guns N' Roses, all here and more. So many, in fact, that if I were to put all the names here, there wouldn't be any room for a book review.
The journey begins in 1927 with the Garden of Allah apartment complex, at the canyon's entrance, built by the fabulously debauched Alla Nazimova. Hollywood denizens like John Barrymore, Anthony Quinn, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Greta Garbo found peace and privacy there (Garbo, so much so that she began her days with a nude swim in the pool). It was close to Sunset Boulevard - yet worlds away. The story of this special place unfolds like a novel, brimming with sex, subterfuge, great music and drama, told by those who saw it all, including Kubernik himself.
After Hollywood claimed the enclave for its own, along came the Jazz Age and the A-list performers of the day who were booked within walking distance of Laurel Canyon at clubs like the Crescendo and the Interlude. Rock and Roll soon followed in the 1960's, then the hippies with clouds of patchouli and marijuana. This is not so much a book as it is an experience, a journey back to a paradise that spanned several notable eras in pop culture.
The design of the book deserves special mention as well; one of a kind photographs and rare memorabilia, lovingly assembled and presented like a high end scrapbook, make this coffee table book even more of a trip back in time. Everyone who was there and is still alive is pretty much here and speaking candidly to Kubernik about their memories. Graham Nash talks about living with Joni Mitchell. Lou Adler talks about his and Elmer Valentine's venues, the Roxy and the Whisky a Go-Go. Jackie DeShannon remembers Brian Wilson skateboarding into her recording session. Glen Campbell speaks about working with the Wrecking Crew. Iconic photographer Henry Diltz talks about snapping images of the ethereal Joni Mitchell playing dulcimer in the field behind her house. Paul McCartney and Andrew Loog Oldham advise the planners of the Monterey Pop Festival to book Jimi Hendrix. All here, and many more amazing stories like them.
Of course, it wasn't all flowers and dulcimers. The dreamy innocence of marijuana turned into the paranoia of cocaine and then heroin. The free love and sharing turned into extreme suspicion and fear prompted by the horrific Manson murders in 1969, not far from Laurel Canyon. And, closer to home, the 1981 Wonderland Murders in Laurel Canyon itself, a drug-related massacre involving porn star John Holmes described as one of the bloodiest mass murders in California history.
But the world that once existed here gave birth to a rich and varied heritage of music and art throughout the decades, and in fact continues to do so. Kubernik interviews some of the more recent inhabitants (singer-songwriter Priscilla Ahn, violinist Lili Haydn, musician Bennett Cale and others) who feel the muse swirling close by as did their predecessors. This is a glorious and loving look at the real Canyon of Dreams, where many hundreds of people created the best work of their lives.