Music and Mayhem in 'Laurel Canyon' In the late 1960s, just as San Francisco was having its own Summer of Love, a rustic canyon at the heart of Los Angeles was also in bloom with songs that defined the moment, written and performed by the bands that defined a generation.
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Music and Mayhem in 'Laurel Canyon'

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Music and Mayhem in 'Laurel Canyon'

Music and Mayhem in 'Laurel Canyon'

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In the late 1960s, just as San Francisco's Haight Ashbury was heading for its Summer of Love, a rustic canyon in the heart of Los Angeles was already abloom with songs that defined the moment.

(Soundbite of song, Mr. Tambourine Man)

MONTAGNE: The Byrds lived in Laurel Canyon when they made this song a hit. The Mamas and the Papas sang about the canyon.

(Soundbite of song, Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)

THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS (Musical Group): (Singing) Young girls are coming to the canyon. And in the morning I can see them walking...

MONTAGNE: The young girls of the canyon that John Phillips wrote about for The Mamas and Papas were fans, groupies, responding to the pull of an astonishing array of rock greats who lived in Laurel Canyon.

Just a short hitchhike from the neon of L.A.'s Sunset Strip, Laurel Canyon was home to entire bands and the hangout of choice for just about every rocker who passed through L.A.

Mr. MICHAEL WALKER (Author, Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Legendary Neighborhood): Musicians need to breath the same air and these were some of the best musicians of their generation, sort of by luck and also by happenstance, jammed into this beautiful, leafy little neighborhood.

MONTAGNE: Meet Michael Walker who's just out with a history - Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Legendary Neighborhood. We met him at the small wooden store emblazoned with psychedelic paintings that's perched along the busy road running through the Canyon.

Mr. WALKER: We are standing at the Laurel Canyon Country Store, and in the 1960s and 1970s this is where you'd be buying a carton of milk and you'd run into David Crosby or you'd run into Stephen Stills or you'd run into Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell, all of whom lived within a mile of this place.

MONTAGNE: The rotating cast of characters in the Canyon also included the Eagles, Carole King, Mama Cass and Jim Morrison.

(Soundbite of song, Love Street)

Mr. JIM MORRISON (Singer): (Singing) She lives on Love Street, lingers long on Love Street...

Mr. WALKER: We're standing now in front of a house that Jim Morrison had an apartment in in the 1960s. And we have to qualify this because domiciles that Jim Morrison lived in are like bars that Hemmingway drank in in Key West. I mean, (unintelligible) every place you turn to, Jim Morrison lived here or slept here. But it appears that he actually did live here.

And there's a Doors' song called Love Street, and this is near the Canyon Store. And Jim Morrison would look out his window and see the people coming into the store. And he said - he was talking about where the creatures meet, and the creatures being the people coming up the stairs with all their hair and their feathers and their finery walking to the Laurel Canyon Store.

(Soundbite of song, Love Street)

Mr. MORRISON: (Singing) I see you live on Love Street. There's this store where the creatures meet. I wonder what they do in there...

MONTAGNE: And then there was Frank Zappa. Michael Walker takes us a brief distance up Laurel Canyon Boulevard to where an old roadhouse once stood. In the '60s it became known as the Log Cabin, and Frank Zappa lived there.

Mr. WALKER: We're on the property of the Log Cabin, but the Log Cabin's property goes way up into the hills. And so we're up near the very top of a ridge.

Frank Zappa moved in in 1968. He and his wife Gail and their new baby Moon Unit moved into the Log Cabin, and then that's when this place became just sort of this rock and roll, whatever you want to call it, of Laurel Canyon. Everybody came to the Log Cabin - famous people, infamous people, people off the street.

MONTAGNE: We're looking just down the hill, and you can hear the cars a little bit, faintly, but they're right there. And what would happen when Frank Zappa was living here?

Mr. WALKER: Well, the house was so close to the street that Gail Zappa told me that there weren't any locks on the doors and so it had become quite the place.

I mean, you would walk in and you would have half the Rolling Stones there and Jimi Hendrix would be playing and there would be endless groupies grouping. And the schism was that Frank Zappa was completely straight. He didn't drink. He didn't take drugs. And I would say probably 98 percent of the people that were hanging out there did. And so this caused some tension. And so all up and down Laurel Canyon Boulevard were all these cars parked. But before you went in, people getting high before they go in (unintelligible).

MONTAGNE: Go see Frank.

Mr. WALKER: Yeah, go see Frank, because he didn't tolerate that.

(Soundbite of song, Plastic People)

Mr. FRANK ZAPPA (Musician): (Singing) Plastic People! Oh, baby, now you're such a drag. And there's this guy from the CIA, and he's creepin' around Laurel Canyon...

Mr. WALKER: The place was so nutty that Gail and the family just moved out after six months, but its legend is to the point where they might as well have lived there six years from all the stories that came out of it.

MONTAGNE: Now, Joni Mitchell lives not very far from here - a neighbor really.

Mr. WALKER: Yeah, it's right over this ridge is the house where Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash lived together. And they had fallen in love and they were living together in this place. And Graham Nash wrote the song, Our House, in sort of commemoration of their time together there.

But the writing of it was really kind of pedestrian days' events. They got up one morning and went over to the San Fernando Valley to Studio City to eat breakfast at Art's Deli. And they, on the way back, Joni saw a vase in an antique store. So she bought it. They came back home and Graham opened the front door and he said, God, it's kind of chilly. I'm going to light a fire and you put some flowers in that vase that you bought today. And he staggers to the piano and an hour later, words and music, he completed the song.

(Soundbite of song, Our House)

CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG (Musical Group): (Singing) I'll light the fire. You place the flowers in the vase that you bought today. Staring at the fire for hours and hours while I listen to you...

Mr. WALKER: He's in this beautiful little hobbity house with this woman he's desperately in love with. It's this perfect scene, and he said he was just overwhelmed with the domesticity of the moment and in a good way.

And that song, I think the reason it's lasted so long is because it was a little bit of an owner's manual for baby-boomers who'd desperately fled this sort of suburban life they'd been living and they wanted to live a different sort of lifestyle. And this song was sort of like, you know, a semaphore flag from the West Coast that's saying, it's okay; you can do this. You don't have to be married. You can be a creative person. You don't have to get a regular job. You can do all this stuff.

(Soundbite of song, Our House)

CROSBY, STILL, NASH & YOUNG: (Singing) Our house is a very, very, very fine house with two cats in the yard. Life used to be so hard. Now everything is easy cause of you...

MONTAGNE: Michael Walker moved to Laurel Canyon in 1991, long after too much money and too many drugs helped end the era he celebrates. He brings the moment back in Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Legendary Neighborhood. To find our how Crosby, Stills & Nash sang their first song together in a Laurel Canyon living room, go to

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

(Soundbite of song, Mr. Tambourine Man)

THE BYRDS (Musical Group): (Singing) Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me. I'm not sleepy and there ain't no place I'm going to. Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me. In the jingle-jangle morning...

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