An Oral History of Laurel Canyon in the 60s and 70s
February 9, 2015 3:31 PM   Subscribe

JONI MITCHELL: Ask anyone in America where the craziest people live and they'll tell you California. Ask anyone in California where the craziest people live and they'll say Los Angeles. Ask anyone in Los Angeles where the craziest people live and they'll tell you Hollywood. Ask anyone in Hollywood where the craziest people live and they'll say Laurel Canyon. And ask anyone in Laurel Canyon where the craziest people live and they'll say Lookout Mountain. So I bought a house on Lookout Mountain.

GRAHAM NASH: It was a very freeing time in Los Angeles; it was an incredible place to be, America. The phone rang like it did in the movies. And you know, take-out food? What an incredible concept.

. . .

DAVID GEFFEN: I remember everything, because I was not stoned.

. . .

JUDY COLLINS: I was up to my eyeballs drinking. I wouldn't use anything else seriously, because I really didn't want to have my drinking interfered with.

. . .

LINDA RONSTADT: Well, who are you going to date—the dentist? But if you were smart, you didn't mess around with anybody in your band. If you were smart.

. . .

DAVID GEFFEN: When I was young, everybody wanted to pick up a guitar. Now everybody wants to work at Goldman Sachs.

Vanity Fair's Laurel Canyon Spotify playlist
posted by sallybrown (64 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ask anyone in America where the craziest people live and they'll tell you California.

Nope, Florida.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:43 PM on February 9, 2015 [18 favorites]


Calumny! What about West Virginia?
posted by Captain l'escalier at 3:46 PM on February 9, 2015


Ah, Laurel Canyon. Birthplace of so much exceedingly pleasant music that, despite being recorded almost exclusively by prodigious cocaine addicts who routinely sexually assaulted teenagers in hot tubs, somehow still inspires thoughts of lazy Sunday mornings spent barefoot.
posted by incomple at 3:46 PM on February 9, 2015 [27 favorites]


There's an interesting book about this place and time: Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll's Legendary Neighborhood
posted by peeedro at 3:50 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was *just* reading this and it took me back to visiting my uncle who lived on Willow Glen. We were warned not to wander too far because HIPPIES and the crazy old man who hates kids who lived across the way in the ruins of the house that burnt years ago in the fire and had a rifle!

AND STAY OUT OF HOUDINI'S HOUSE! IT'S HAUNTED!

If only I knew that these were Famous Hippies!
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 3:53 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have conflated my memories, a la Brian Williams! It was Houdini's house that was a burnt ruin!
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 3:57 PM on February 9, 2015


That reminds me of my parents locking the car doors when we drove through what they called the "hippie district" in Atlanta. I guess it was 10th street near Piedmont Park? This would have been around 1972, and we had Bruce Hampton instead of Graham Nash. Works for me.
posted by thelonius at 3:59 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Joni Mitchell stole most of that from Heinlein's "And he built a crooked house".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:13 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


It was a melting pot. People came from everywhere. Joni and Neil were from Canada, Glenn Frey was from Detroit, Stephen Stills and J. D. Souther were from Texas, Linda Ronstadt was from Tucson

That's a pot of very white fondue compared to the other melting pots LA has to offer.
posted by univac at 4:16 PM on February 9, 2015 [33 favorites]


For more musical accompaniment I highly recommend the mixes LA Burnout and LA Burnout 2: Still Burnt.
posted by Miko at 4:18 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nope, Florida.

Crazy ain't what it used to be.
posted by acb at 4:22 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Laurel Canyon figured heavily in my young adult life in the '90s. I worked at the country store & did deliveries in the canyons. Instead of the CSNY crowd and such, it was Sherman Helmsley, Yanni, Marilyn Manson, Fiona Apple, the dad from My So-Called Life...
posted by univac at 4:22 PM on February 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


Joni is a top-tier songwriting genius.

And anyone who says otherwise is itchin' for a fight.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:23 PM on February 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


Joni Mitchell is paraphrasing the opening of Robert Heinlein's story And He Built a Crooked House.

Americans are considered crazy anywhere in the world.

They will usually concede a basis for the accusation but point to California as the focus of the infection. Californians stoutly maintain that their bad reputation is derived solely from the acts of the inhabitants of Los Angeles County. Angelenos will, when pressed, admit the charge but explain hastily, "It's Hollywood. It's not our fault—we didn't ask for it; Hollywood just grew."

The people in Hollywood don't care; they glory in it. If you are interested, they will drive you up Laurel Canyon "—where we keep the violent cases." The Canyonites—the brown-legged women, the trunks-clad men constantly busy building and rebuilding their slap-happy unfinished houses—regard with faint contempt the dull creatures who live down in the flats, and treasure in their hearts the secret knowledge that they, and only they, know how to live.

Lookout Mountain Avenue is the name of a side canyon which twists up from Laurel Canyon. The other Canyonites don't like to have it mentioned; after all, one must draw the line somewhere!

posted by charlie don't surf at 4:31 PM on February 9, 2015 [13 favorites]


Joni Mitchell is paraphrasing the opening of Robert Heinlein's story "And He Built a Crooked House".

Came here to say this. Though it makes me wonder if it was in the Angeleno zeitgeist before Heinlein used it.

That's a great story, by the way. It should have been a Twilight Zone episode.
posted by lhauser at 4:42 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


And the skies ar...And skies ar...And skies ar----blue.
posted by clavdivs at 4:46 PM on February 9, 2015


Heh. My old man lived on Lookout Mtn. in the early 70s with law school buddies. In the house next to where Joni had lived with Crosby, if I'm remembering the story right. I've heard all kinds of tales about what it was like. Mostly amazing, occasionally tragic, and surprisingly short lived for the impact it made on those who lived there.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:47 PM on February 9, 2015


California is crazy.

Florida is insane.

One you can generally just back away from while smiling.

The other one usually ends in severe bodily trauma.
posted by Badgermann at 4:56 PM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars, but I hate them worse than lepers and I'll kill them in their cars (Revolution Blues, a Neil Young song written from Charles Manson's perspective)
posted by dialetheia at 5:04 PM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Weird scenes inside the canyon
posted by bukvich at 5:04 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


My old man lived on Lookout Mtn. in the early 70s with law school buddies.

Same for my uncle. Maybe they were housemates?
posted by carsonb at 5:05 PM on February 9, 2015


MICHELLE PHILLIPS: Before 1969, my memories were nothing but fun and excitement and shooting to the top of the charts and loving every minute of it. The Manson murders [in the summer of 1969] ruined the L.A. music scene. That was the nail in the coffin of the freewheeling, let's get high, everybody's welcome, come on in, sit right down. Everyone was terrified. I carried a gun in my purse. And I never invited anybody over to my house again.
posted by bukvich at 5:14 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


The first place I lived in LA was in Laurel Canyon. I don't even remember the address, it was up Laurel Canyon Blvd from Hollywood, take a left at the stoplight by the Wig & Pen, and uphill somewhere or other. My girlfriend found the rental listing, we lived in the house while it was on the market, which was only about 8 or 9 months. The previous owner was a songwriter and musician, he committed suicide and his widow just walked away and didn't look back, she wanted to sell the place. We even had to move her crap out for her. It was a weird place, it had long green shag carpet, the kind you couldn't vacuum, you had to rake it. The street was narrow, sometimes almost impassable because it was being repaired by the Southern California Gas company, they were digging up the road and replacing all the gas lines. I think the whole mountainside was gradually sliding downhill, tearing up the underground utility lines. At that time, there were still a few undeveloped areas up above the canyon where you could go hiking. But all my neighbors said, hey don't take the right turn at the top of the hill, that's where David Carradine lives, he'll send his dobermans after you. Yes, he did.

One thing that really irritated me about the house was that there was a huge hibiscus plant that overgrew the back door and blocked it from opening. You could only get the door open a few inches and you had to squeeze out through the opening. The previous owners had done some modifications, the hibiscus had little doll's heads stuck on some of the branches. There must have been a dozen or more, with stringy, ratty hair, and cracking plastic faces, rotting away in the sun. I tried to ignore them, but they bugged me more and more, and one day I had enough. I just pulled all the heads off the hibiscus one by one, and threw them as far away into the bushes as I could. Then I started sawing off the damn branch that was blocking the door. My girlfriend came out and saw what I was doing and demanded that I stop. We got in a big argument, I ranted at her that I was tired of the damn branch in the way, and I was especially sick of those demented dolls heads, which I threw away. Her response stunned me, "What dolls heads?" She had lived there for months and never noticed them. She was convinced I had hallucinated them, and I probably did not help dispel that notion by scrambling out into the bushes trying to find the dolls heads, just to show them to her. I never did find any.

It wasn't too long before the house was sold, I should have bought it myself, but I was new to town and mostly broke and I didn't realize what a good deal it was. When we moved out, while I was making one last inspection tour of the house to make sure nothing was left behind, I found a sheet of paper on top of a closet shelf. It was a typewritten song lyric, it was basically the suicide note from the previous owner. The song had five or six verses, all bitterly complaining about the road construction crews in front of his house. I showed it to my girlfriend and she was as horrified as I was. We decided it belonged with the house, so we stuck it in a slot behind a sliding door, so it would be hidden in the house walls and never be found. I don't remember any of the verses, but I do remember the refrain:

Life will never be sweet
because they're always fixing the street.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:19 PM on February 9, 2015 [82 favorites]


I looked at a place in Lookout Mountain during my last apartment search and ended up passing due to the hassle of needing to rely on Laurel Canyon Blvd. I love where I ended up, but I sometimes wonder. It's really a strange place, to be so close to both West Hollywood and the valley but distinct from both.
posted by feloniousmonk at 5:28 PM on February 9, 2015


JONI MITCHELL: Ask anyone in America where the craziest people live and they'll tell you California

New York. Only nobody really notices.
posted by jonmc at 5:47 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fellow Heinlein pedants! The pull quote is from Joni Mitchell, and it begins, "When I first came out to L.A. [in 1968], my friend [photographer] Joel Bernstein found an old book in a flea market that said...".
Mitchell didn't steal from Heinlein, she just didn't know she was referring to his work, and in 1968, California was way weirder than Florida and arguably weirder than NYC. Certainly in 1941 when Heinlein published the story, California was more than amply weird. That's the era where L Ron was engaged in oddball occultism in Pasadena with Jack Parsons of JPL.
posted by gingerest at 6:00 PM on February 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


Yeah Joni, you're really pushing the envelope living in California. NYC was already too old and cold to matter, and it's not like she was in Juneau or Duluth.
posted by Sphinx at 6:07 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I used to drive through Laurel Canyon regularly when I lived in LA and always kinda wished I lived there. But when the rains, floods, mudslides and fires would come I was happy to be stuck in Van Nuys. My only worry was the occasional tremor and the creepmeter in my front yard. Ah, Babylon...
posted by jim in austin at 6:15 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


DAVID GEFFEN: When I was young, everybody wanted to pick up a guitar. Now everybody wants to work at Goldman Sachs.

Mmmm.. When David was young, everyone HE knew wanted to pick up a guitar. Now everybody HE KNOWS wants to work at Sachs.

The world hasn't changed, David, your friends have.
posted by el io at 6:25 PM on February 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


Didn't Heinlein live in Laurel Canyon at the time he wrote Crooked House?
posted by Devonian at 6:26 PM on February 9, 2015


"My old man lived on Lookout Mtn. in the early 70s"

Was he a singer in the park?
posted by MattMangels at 6:37 PM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Back in the olden days when even little kids would sit in the front seat of the car, my dad's keep-the-kid-busy car game was "Count the VW Bugs as we Drive Over Laurel Canyon." There were always A LOT.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:51 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


My father attended tech school in Calgary with Joni, in the late 50s/early 60s -- at that point the Alberta College of Art and Design was still, I gather, the Provincial Institute of Technology and Arts. Dad went on to become a radio operator and worked in Churchill, MB as a tech for some Canadian Government ionospheric research; we know what Joni got up to. Apparently they were both in the student government and Joni's friends threw the good parties. Hopefully I can get him to sit down and tell me more details while he's still around -- I only happened to hear this story over the recent winter holidays because I was helping him set up a new phone and Joni was in the music I gave him.

Cool article, thanks for posting!
posted by Alterscape at 6:58 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


In the Terry Gross interview Joni Mitchell told Terry the reason she became a musician when she was a student was because the musicians knew how to party. That is a phrase that I sort of wish I didn't understand so well what it means.
posted by bukvich at 7:01 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


GRAHAM NASH: It was a very freeing time in Los Angeles; it was an incredible place to be, America. The phone rang like it did in the movies...

Did they not have phones in Canada? Did they ring differently? Or did no one call the Nash house?
posted by thelonius at 7:18 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Life will never be sweet
because they're always fixing the street.


OMG I have never typed out those words before today, and now decades later, suddenly I see what it is.

It's sung to the tune of "On The Sunny Side of the Street."
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:27 PM on February 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


Did they not have phones in Canada? Did they ring differently? Or did no one call the Nash house?

Graham Nash is from England, where the phones sounded different.
posted by Wolof at 7:57 PM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


"Count the VW Bugs as we Drive Over Laurel Canyon."

This is one of the little driving terms that I love about LA. You drive over the Canyon, or up the Canyon. About halfway through, you get to the top of the Canyon at Mullholland. After you get out of the Canyon and hit Ventura Blvd, you arrive in the Valley. But it would be faster to go up the Hollywood Freeway, rather than down on the surface.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:46 PM on February 9, 2015


MICHELLE PHILLIPS: Before 1969, my memories were nothing but fun and excitement and shooting to the top of the charts and loving every minute of it. The Manson murders [in the summer of 1969] ruined the L.A. music scene. That was the nail in the coffin of the freewheeling, let's get high, everybody's welcome, come on in, sit right down. Everyone was terrified. I carried a gun in my purse. And I never invited anybody over to my house again.

Should have had her direct Inherent Vice...
posted by mrgrimm at 9:53 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


The excellent BBC Four documentary Hotel California: LA From The Byrds To The Eagles is largely about this period and interviews Crosby, Nash, Geffen, Bernie Leadon, Van Dyke Parks etc.
posted by kersplunk at 2:19 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Joni Mitchell is paraphrasing the opening of Robert Heinlein's story "And He Built a Crooked House" [gives quote]

Got to say she improves it quite a lot.
posted by Mocata at 3:14 AM on February 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


It would have been interesting to hear from Dweezil Zappa or his siblings about what growing up there was like
posted by thelonius at 6:05 AM on February 10, 2015


For more musical accompaniment I highly recommend the mixes LA Burnout and LA Burnout 2: Still Burnt.
posted by Miko at 7:18 PM on February 9

Looks like the correct link for LA Burnout 2 is here, although, regrettably, the download links inside are dead. Never have I wanted to download a mixtape more.
posted by SPUTNIK at 8:40 AM on February 10, 2015


Oh, what a bummer. Sorry about that. Maybe you can retroactively compile them from the list.
posted by Miko at 8:59 AM on February 10, 2015


charlie don't surf: all my neighbors said, hey don't take the right turn at the top of the hill, that's where David Carradine lives, he'll send his dobermans after you. Yes, he did.

I want to do things with this comment that even jaded Angelenos might find a trifle louche.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:09 AM on February 10, 2015


I want to do things with this comment that even jaded Angelenos might find a trifle louche.

I didn't even go right, I went left!

This sort of thing happens in the Canyons. I remember hiking around a friend's house in Topanga and being confronted by a guy with 2 dobermans on a chain, carrying a shotgun. He advised me to turn around and go back. This is usually a sign of a pot growing operation.

You might be able to shock Angelenos, but not an old Canyonite. I didn't tell you the story about the neighbor's poodle getting into our house. My girlfriend was very upset. The neighbor came around, she was going door to door, frantically searching for her poodle. I don't think she was as frantic to get the dog back, so much as frantic to get the dog back before anyone found out what it did.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:45 PM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


What the poodle did? What did the poodle do?
posted by bracems at 5:20 PM on February 10, 2015


Please don't tell us.
posted by glasseyes at 6:00 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


It was trained to sing "Marrakesh"?
posted by thelonius at 6:45 PM on February 10, 2015


I cosign everything written here about Laurel Canyon. I can't go into specifics because I have to live here for a few more months and I don't want to jinx myself in a anyway. There is a presence here, it is sentient. We used to be close, but we're only tolerating each other until I can get out.

It prefers I keep its secrets. OK. OK.
posted by jbenben at 8:33 PM on February 10, 2015


What did the poodle do?
posted by zutalors! at 9:21 PM on February 10, 2015


I am not telling what the poodle did. Whatever you imagined, it was worse. Unless you ever lived in the Canyon in which case you know exactly what it did.

It prefers I keep its secrets. OK. OK.

I was thinking of writing a Canyon memoir, I was thinking I would call it "Maureen Reagan Stole My Hash Pipe." But I just didn't live there long enough to get a book's worth of material, and I have no grand finale. And it is far too late to apply pressure to the former First Family. I guess I will have to keep most of my secrets.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:40 PM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Whatever you imagined, it was worse.
I kind of doubt that. A dog has a limited, uh, repetoire.
posted by thelonius at 2:16 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Did they not have phones in Canada? Did they ring differently? Or did no one call the Nash house?

I read this as a more metaphorical "the phone rang [and it was the record company and you found out you were successful like that]," but I suppose Wolof's more prosaic version is better.
posted by psoas at 9:07 AM on February 11, 2015


Did they not have phones in Canada? Did they ring differently? Or did no one call the Nash house?

I read this as a more metaphorical "the phone rang [and it was the record company and you found out you were successful like that]," but I suppose Wolof's more prosaic version is better.


I interpreted that as him saying he was surprised reality matched all those U.S. shows and movies showing people being chatty on the phone, which was ringing all the time - like that musical number from Bye Bye Birdie, or detective movies where someone's always calling. But Wolof's version makes more sense.
posted by sallybrown at 9:40 AM on February 11, 2015


Did the dog eat the acid and was it holding it's own in conversation?
posted by WeekendJen at 12:14 PM on February 11, 2015


Lynda Barry's dog Bob Barker did that. And wrote a poem about it.
posted by goofyfoot at 12:42 PM on February 11, 2015


I read this as a more metaphorical "the phone rang [and it was the record company and you found out you were successful like that]," but I suppose Wolof's more prosaic version is better.

I took it literally.

British Phone Ringing

American Phone Ringing
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:14 PM on February 11, 2015


yea I'm with charlie don't surf. When I went to England as a teen I noticed the phone ringing differently. I'd imagine "like the movies" would be the American ring. It's sort of a charming anecdote.
posted by zutalors! at 2:16 PM on February 11, 2015


It's sort of a charming anecdote.

It's something a musician would notice, but few others.

But there is nothing charming about Nash, who is a despicable swindler and con artist.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:50 PM on February 11, 2015


Um I just meant the phone ringing. It was charming because it reminded me of something I had noticed myself.
posted by zutalors! at 4:31 PM on February 11, 2015


Definitely just the phone ringing. I first learned about the difference from a Pink Floyd song where the phone rings. "Money", I think. Definitely something that signalled "not like home."
posted by Miko at 7:36 PM on February 11, 2015


My old man lived on Lookout Mtn. in the early 70s with law school buddies.

Same for my uncle. Maybe they were housemates?


The house had a turret. They called it 'the castle.'
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:35 PM on February 12, 2015


But there is nothing charming about Nash, who is a despicable swindler and con artist.

And according to the piece, responsible for unleashing Adam Levine on all of us.
posted by sallybrown at 7:06 AM on February 19, 2015


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