Every so often, a film or documentary arrives at just the right time to soothe the feelings that the daily stress of life can create. That’s the case with Alison Ellwood’s “Laurel Canyon,” a feature-length documentary about the Los Angeles folk/rock scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s that’s currently airing in two-parts on Epix.
I’ll be honest – my expectations weren’t very high. I have seen a few other documentaries about this era, but none of them ever seemed to quite bring into focus what I’d lived as a child. I grew up on Laurel Canyon Blvd, at the foot of the canyon area on the Valley side. But I was cautiously optimistic that this film would deliver and did it ever.
Most of the other documentaries I had seen on the topic always felt incomplete and left me wanting more. This docuseries brought all the unique elements into focus and transported me back to the idyllic period of my life known as “childhood.” Prior to this, only Jakob Dylan’s “Echoes in the Canyon” came close, but still left out a few of the key points that made this period in time truly remarkable. “Laurel Canyon” does all of that, and more. It’s a heartfelt bear hug to the generation of us who lived and loved the music of the “hippy” era, at a time when it’s most needed.
The documentary starts in the early 60s in Los Angeles, when the Troubadour was still a folk club that didn’t allow electric guitars, and artists and hippies were everywhere. From the onset, you see where so many amazing acts were born and nurtured, and the process they used to create some of the most amazing songs ever written. Musician turned photographer, Henry Diltz took hundreds of thousands of pictures, intimate portraits of true musical geniuses in action. Those pictures combined with amazing video footage spoke of a time long gone. A nearly perfect era, brought to life with the musical vibrations that tickled our souls, and documented forever in those pictures and film. Bands and acts like The Byrds, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Love, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan, The Monkees, The Doors, The Mamas & The Papas, and Alice Cooper to mention a few were either born from this ripe artistic environment, or fed into it for others to drink from the creative cup. The Beatles were frequent visitors, and rented houses up in the Canyon. Glenn Frey and Don Henley started the Eagles there. It’s truly mind-blowing just how many people either lived in Laurel Canyon or spent huge blocks of time there.
But like all golden eras, they come to an end, or at the very least, are tempered by events that happen beyond anyone’s control. Los Angeles in the 60s was at the epicenter of many of those events. The Watts Riots in 1965, Robert Kennedy’s assassination in 1968, and the Manson murders in 1969. Life drastically changed after the Manson murders. Prior to that time, no one locked their doors. People came and went as they pleased. They ate each other’s food. It was a very simple time. They congregated at the home of Mama Cass, who was well known to be one of the best hostesses in the canyon. It was a blithe and idyllic existence.
The Manson murders ended that. Everyone became nervous, cautious and wary, especially when it was revealed that musician and good friend to many, Bobby Beausoleil, was one of the Manson ‘family’, and had in fact, killed one of his good friends. Bobby was described as “a quiet, good kid, who just hung around and really never bothered anyone,” and most who knew him were completely shocked by the revelation. After that, people started locking doors, and being far more cautious of who they allowed into their lives.
The inspired artistry, although slightly subdued for a short time, could not be stopped. Harrison Ford hung out and helped build additions onto homes. Studios were added. People fell in love, and people fell out of love, only adding fuel to the creative fires. They pushed on into the 70s, still making music loved by all. People like Joni Mitchell, and Jackson Browne moved to the Canyon, adding even more creative depth. It was truly, Nirvana.
As a small child growing up on Laurel Canyon Blvd, I knew I was on the brink of greatness. I knew where the studios were. I knew I lived less than 2 miles from the start of the winding canyon road that was my own personal “stairway to heaven.” My idols lived and worked so close, but still so far out of reach. I will never forget … my class had to write reports in 2nd grade, detailing what we wanted to be when we grew up, and presenting it. When my turn came, I told the teacher I wanted to be an A&R Rep for Capitol Records. She almost fell over. She asked me if I even knew what an A&R Rep did, and when I proceeded to tell her in great detail, I thought she would faint. Many of the kids I want to school with were the sons and daughters of studio execs, producers, directors, etc. They got it. I’m not so sure my teacher did though. And my mother definitely did not. I still got an “A”. That’s probably the “A” I’m most proud of.
The “Laurel Canyon” documentary checked all my boxes, and vastly exceeded all expectations. Allison Ellwood got it right! It was like watching a magical replay of my childhood, during one of the best times of that era. Truly magical, plus a few added bonuses, and reveals about some of the people who lived there. No spoilers. Watch the documentary. You won’t be sorry.
Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected]