It’s will-nigh impossible to resist the temptation to flip through Canyon of Dreams
. Its dimensions may not quite fit the definition of ‘coffee-table book,’ but its plethora of photos make it an ideal piece to casually pick up and peruse. In fact, it’s preferable to read the book that way rather than cover to cover: this is a beautifully-designed softcover book with more than a few memorable shots, like the one of CSNY with ex-Buffalo Springfield bassist Bruce Palmer dead center of the portrait, but no real sustained narrative.
Nor is it really a dissection of The Magic and Music of Laurel Canyon
, but rather a nostalgic reminiscence, no more no less, from surprisingly varied points of view. The end result of author Harvey Kubernik’s multitude of interviews provides precious little substantial insight into this coveted area outside Hollywood. And, given the recent flurry of articles headlining the return of the Laurel Canyon sound, precious little space is given to its contemporary status. For instance, Dawes is mentioned only in passing, even having backed both Robbie Robertson and Jackson Browne, while Jonathan Wilson, the man who produced both their records and is credited as the focal point of the current revival of the scene, is little more than an afterthought in his truncated interview.
But that’s in keeping with the majority of the sources here, many of whose artistic pedigree is more than a little suspect. Graham Nash’s extensive reminiscences make perfect sense as his “Our House” was written about his home there. But why not comparable dialogue with The Doors’ Ray Manzarek? He contributes the foreword to the book and, while he does not claim to have been a resident, he recounts how all his partners in that iconic band lived in the area during their group's heyday.
Spending so much time in conversation with Three Dog Night’s Danny Hutton only heightens the clique factor in the book’s composition, an approach the author magnifies with photos of less than famous figures personages, repeated quotes from whom render their own credibility suspect. And it’s not just less-than-famous self-avowed groupies like Pamela DesBarres or fad-chasing hangers on like Rodney Bingenhaimer, it’s otherwise anonymous figures as well.
Thus, photos like that of Eric Clapton at Monkee Mickey Dolenz’ home say as much as the text about the nature of the bonding that occurred in the 60's era of Laurel Canyon. If Harvey Kubernik’s portrait of Laurel Canyon is accurate—and his journalistic experience, not to mention his roots in LA, give little reason to—not much of aesthetic significance really ever occurred within its environs. While Laurel Canyon’s community may have validated itself, the ever-present Frank Zappa appears to be the only resident who committed himself to his work while actually in the area.
To be fair, it is somewhat illuminating to know the movie world first inhabited Laurel Canyon for its own somewhat sordid and pragmatic ends: the area is close to Hollywood’s business operations by geography, but far removed by dint of its rural landscape. Jazz culture became thoroughly embedded in these secluded surroundings too, in part by its connection with the cinematic community. Yet, Kubernik has no real story to tell beyond that, but rather the same tale repeated with different cast of characters; the book winds down fitfully as it moves chronologically, alternating chapters on fascinating subjects like Jackson Browne and Little Feat with pieces on “Clubland” that arguably represent the nadir of the twenty chapters.
More telling tales like that of Lowell George’s effort at band democracy gone awry would give Canyon of Dreams
some weight apart from its size. Like the wry anecdote relating the source of Eagles’ name for their band---a play on the word ‘egos’--it’s one memorable nugget worth retaining once you’ve put the book down for the final time (or prompting you to pick it up again in the hopes of finding more of the same).
That said, Harvey Kubernik and his editors might well have condensed the timeline they covered or used more and/or larger photos of the significant principles involved, such as the radiant Joni Mitchell. In so doing, The Magic and The Music of Laurel Canyon
would appear an unremittingly crystal clear snapshot rather than an intermittently blurry slideshow.