Rock History Lessons from Laurel Canyon

Michael Walker's book 'Laurel Canyon.'

Michael Walker's nonfiction book Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Legendary Neighborhood charts the highs and lows of a celebrated part of music history. hide caption

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I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, so I must confess, we in "superior California" always sneered at the lower life forms down the coast in Los Angeles. After all, we had the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane — not to mention Country Joe and the Fish. OK, I wasn't quite old enough to hear them live at the Fillmore, but we all basked in their reflected glory.

Well, today on Morning Edition, Renee Montagne gave me a little lesson in rock history. She profiles a new book about the music scene in Los Angeles' Laurel Canyon. Growing up, I assumed Los Angeles produced only smog and movies. But it turns out Laurel Canyon was emanating many of the tunes I actually grew up humming. Did you know, for instance, the Graham Nash wrote "Our House" (with two cats in the yard) about the love-nest he shared with Joni Mitchell in that neighborhood? Or that the Byrds composed "Mr. Tambourine Man" there? (See correction below.) And Jim Morrison's Love Street turns out to be... in Laurel Canyon. Who knew?

All right, I did know that Frank Zappa was a product of the Southlands. And I knew he was Important with a capital "I." But I still say, L.A., he's all yours.

Correction: Oops. "Mr. Tambourine Man" wasn't a product of Laurel Canyon after all. Though it's featured in Renee's story, she deftly said that The Byrds "made it a hit" when they lived in Los Angeles. It was written by some guy named Robert Zimmerman, who was born in Duluth, Minn. That would be Bob Dylan. At some point I knew that, but you know it's not just the hippies who are aging. So, not sure whether to be embarrassed by my gaffe or to feel just a little bit more smug about San Francisco. I'll try both.

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