As avid, repeat readers of B&V already know, my corporate masters often force me to travel to far flung places in order to do my job. I’m hitting all the garden spots these days from Des Moines to Phoenix to Minneapolis. That’s Minneapolis in November people. This is not glamorous travel. Yes, there’s a lot of eating and drinking on the road but I’m to the point where I’m kind of over that. I never know when I’ll be asked to drop everything and head to the airport.
When I’m actually home, I like to Netflix and chill, which I have always thought meant watch shows on Netflix and well, chill out. Apparently there may be another meaning to that phrase… I may need to ask someone younger… Anyway, my travel schedule doesn’t really allow me to watch “network television.” Not that I’ve been a fan of watching anything the networks put out… I haven’t really been a big TV fan since they cancelled Kojak. I like to watch football and tennis on TV and that’s about it. I’m not like those, “I only watch sports and public television” type of snobs (ahem, Doug). After a long day at work, when I am at home, I do like to veg out on the couch and binge-watch something.
After recently returning from one of my extended trips away, the Rock Chick said, “I’ve found a bunch of things we need to watch.” This is always a happy announcement. However, sadly, Eddie Murphy’s Dolemite was one of them… don’t waste your time (full disclosure, it was one of my picks). One of the first things she pulled up was a documentary on Netflix called Echo In the Canyon. It’s a documentary focusing on L.A.’s famous Laurel Canyon, a haven for artists and rock stars back in the heyday of rock and roll. Rock and roll doc, a rockumentary, Hell Yes! It was put together by director Tom Slater and Jakob Dylan (son of Bob, formerly of the Wallflowers) who also serves as the narrator/chief interviewer. There’s a funny piece of dialogue between Jakob and David Crosby when Crosby says, “And then Dylan showed up…” and Jakob, very deadpan responds, “You’re going to have to be more specific.”
The doc traces the influence of the Beatles to the Beach Boys and then through a series of iconic bands from the mid-to-late sixties. The show is divided between archival footage of the bands, to interviews with members of the bands (Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, Brian Wilson, Stephen Stills) to shots of current artists sitting around discussing the music and the time that generated it (Beck, Cat Power, Jakob, Norah Jones). It appears after filming the documentary, Jakob Dylan got a bunch of people together, both in the studio and at a one-off concert to recreate the songs. They released a soundtrack and the covers are mostly reverential. The only track that really caught my ear was Jakob and Fiona Apple duetting on the Beach Boys “In My Room,” a song I’d never heard before but instantly loved. It’s an interesting listen. Beck and Norah Jones, two of our B&V favorites have tracks on the soundtrack too.
In the middle sixties the Beatles were king. Their influence can not be overstated. The documentary which features Ringo (we all love Ringo, Peace and Love, baby), starts with them and their influence. They’d spent time in Laurel Canyon on one of the early tours. Laurel Canyon was a hot bed of artists (I’m talking painters/poets not just guitarists) and musicians. All these different bands had people who lived in the Canyon. They’d jam all the time. They’d show up at each other’s houses and write songs and try out new material. If I were to die and reawaken in Laurel Canyon in the sixties I’ll know I’m in heaven. It had to be rock and roll Nirvana.
The film starts with Jakob Dylan and Tom Petty hanging out in a music store, surrounded by guitars. I’ll admit, it sort of hit me hard to see Tom Petty sitting there surrounded by guitars talking about folk-rock and the Byrds. He strums a tune on a Rickenbacker (which he says is pronounced “back” not “bach”) from the She’s the One Soundtrack, and after a few chords, he smiles a devilish smile and says to the camera, “that’s all you get… you can’t afford any more.” God, do we miss Tom Petty. He sets up the entire story…
The main band at the beginning of this story is the Beach Boys. Now, in full disclosure, I’ve always hated the Beach Boys. Besides Brian Wilson they didn’t really play instruments. They were the sixties N’Sync if you ask me. But I’ll begrudgingly admit the huge influence they also had. They were influenced by the Beatles and “genius” Brian Wilson in turn influenced the Beatles… and back and forth it went. Pet Sounds is compared to Bach in the documentary. That influence was even greater on some of their American compatriots.
From the Beach Boys we go to Roger McGuinn and the Byrds. McGuinn was also influenced by the Beach Boys and especially the Beatles. He started playing Beatles tunes, stripped down and acoustic for folk fans in the Village in New York city. They didn’t dig it, so he packed up and headed out to the Canyon to form the Byrds with David Crosby, amongst others. Crosby is interviewed at length and even admits that, well, he was kind of an asshole. He was kicked out of the band for writing a song about a threesome… “Triad.” Hell, that’s what a lot of songs are about these days… I don’t see the issue there. Ironically the Jefferson Airplane recorded the track a few years later.
From the Byrds the line runs to the Mamas and Papas. They too were trying to make it in New York and then migrated to the Canyon. Michelle Phillips is on hand to recount her glory days, sleeping with everyone. Go Michelle, go! She explains the genesis of such legendary songs as “Do What You Want to Do” and “California Dreaming.” The vocal harmonies in that band were incredible. Mama Cass never gets the credit she so richly deserves. I found myself loading tracks from their greatest hits onto my iPod.
After that the story heads over to a band I’ve always under-appreciated, the Buffalo Springfield. Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay all in the same band. They showed some great clips of the guys back in the sixties. Stephen Stills apparently was very fond of cowboy hats in those days. What a great band. I only had their Retrospective hits LP, and after this documentary I quickly rushed out and bought their debut, eponymously titled LP. What a classic. That’s the key to this whole documentary – I was filled with the need to go and seek out these bands and explore their music. I urge all of you to do the same.
Now, I have to admit the choices they made here were pretty limited. The Monkees, who always get a bad rap, also lived in the Canyon and they’re ignored. Hell, they used a lot of the same session musicians the Beach Boys used. The Monkees hung out with the Beatles too, you know? They learned to play their instruments and in 1967 they had the second biggest selling LP of the year behind Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Which means they sold more LPs than Hendrix, who once opened for them. They totally ignore the Queen of Laurel Canyon (if you will), Joni Mitchell. Where is she in this? They talk to producer Lou Adler, you’d think they’d talk to or about Joni. Jim Morrison of the Doors lived out there but I guess his music is outside the narrow focus of folk-rock, country-rock. Yes, this rockumentary is slightly flawed if you ask me.
All of that said, if you accept the narrow focus of the documentary, then this is a very enjoyable watch. And again, everyone should seek out this music, whether it’s the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas, the Buffalo Springfield, and try to find it on vinyl. If you were to pass below my home office window this week, you’d think it was 1966 up here… I’ve been dancin’ around all week with a fringe jacket and bell bottoms on. It’s groovy stuff people and we all need more groovy these days.