California Dreamin’: Laurel Canyon, A Special Place In Time

Like many others I’ve not had a holiday this year, but I did spend much of last week in Laurel Canyon, that hotbed of creativity that became the epicentre of the late ’60s folk rock scene. First of all I watched the two-part series Laurel Canyon, A Place In Time and then I revisited Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, where much of the action takes place in the same location, at the same point in time. (Both can be found on Amazon Prime.)

I’ve watched many documentaries over the years about the music and lifestyles of those who resided in Laurel Canyon, but this was a particularly good one, as the only two ‘talking heads’ were photographers from those days (Henry Diltz and Nurit Wilde) who shared many of their candid shots. We saw Joni Mitchell looking all loved up with Graham Nash, Peter Tork larking around in Frank Zappa’s back garden, Jim Morrison on his bicycle and David Crosby hanging out with future sidekick Stephen Stills.

During my first year of blogging, as some regulars might remember, I kept returning to the year 1967, as for some reason there is a special place in my heart for the music from that era. Perhaps it’s because I was just a little too young to remember it from first time around, so still have many new discoveries to make, or maybe I’m just a bit of a hippie at heart and if I could hire an honest-to-goodness time machine for a day, I think I would head back to Laurel Canyon. In the early ’60s the music industry was still very much centred in New York, but by 1967 many Greenwich Village folk artists were moving west to California and setting up home in the houses and cabins which littered the hillsides of the West Hollywood district of Los Angeles. Doors were left unlocked, residents hung out and partied, but best of all, they made great music.

Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills, a district of Los Angeles

As for choosing a featured song for this post, there are literally too many to choose from. I took notes whilst watching the first episode of the documentary and they stretched to six pages. The names of some of the people who lived in Laurel Canyon in the late ’60s are as follows:

The Byrds, ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’, Love, Joni Mitchell, Brian Wilson, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Buffalo Springfield, Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper, Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz and The Mamas & the Papas.

Considering Mama Cass used to have an open house policy, and seems to have been one of the main figures of Canyon life, maybe this song would be a good choice. It was written when the Mamas & the Papas were still based in cold and wet New York, but were contemplating a move to California, which just like many others before them is exactly what they did.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

California Dreamin’ by the Mamas & the Papas:


But of course all good things come to an end and that’s kind of what happened to this free-loving, drug-fuelled community a few years later. Doors could no longer be left open after The Manson Family killings, and a couple of the key players died way before their time (Jim Morrison and Mama Cass). As we headed into the 1970s bands like the Eagles entered the frame, and the music became more about making money, which was a new direction for Canyon residents. One by one they started to head down to more salubrious residences in more upmarket districts such as Beverley Hills.

The film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is set in 1969, and is a tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age. The main character is Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a star who fears his career is fading, and his stunt double Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt) who now acts as his gofer. As ever with Tarantino, the plot follows multiple storylines all coming together at the end. Rick’s house on Cielo Drive is right next to the one rented by Sharon Tate (a Manson Family victim) and her husband Roman Polanski. I won’t spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but suffice to say it was vintage Tarantino. Cielo Drive is not in Laurel Canyon but a bit further west, however it’s still located in the Hollywood Hills. With winter now approaching here in Scotland, I know where I’d rather be (without the murders of course).

I’ve long known about the community who took up residence in these hills, just a stone’s throw from downtown Los Angeles, but I never took the time to work out where on the map Laurel Canyon is actually located. Now I’ve got that sorted it’s time to revisit the good times, before it started to go wrong, and enjoy the music that was inspired by the place.

There was a lovely story in the documentary about how the song Our House by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young came about. Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell, both young and in love, had gone down into Los Angeles for some breakfast. On the way they’d stopped at an antique shop where Joni bought a simple, blue vase. When they got home, Graham suggested she stroll through the woods to pick flowers for the vase. Rather than build the fire he had promised, he sat down at her piano and began writing a song about their shared domestic bliss: “I’ll light the fire, you put the flowers in the vase that you bought today”. I’m an old romantic so really loved that story but find it hard to believe that by the time the song was released, they were no longer a couple. Makes me sad.

This one by Buffalo Springfield always sends shivers down my spine, and it has appeared in many a Vietnam War film. Although often considered an anti-war song, Stephen Stills was inspired to write it because of the Sunset Strip curfew riots in November 1966, a series of early counterculture-era clashes that took place between police and young people.

Of course we can’t forget about Joni Mitchell, that Lady of the Canyon.

Finally, something from Jim Morrison and The Doors, one of the most iconic and influential frontmen in rock history, who sadly died at the age of 27 in 1971. Jim was a true bohemian and poet who struggled to cope with his fame. Perhaps his brooding good looks were a hindrance to him, but he remains on many a deep-thinker’s bedroom wall to this day.

Until next time….

California Dreamin’ Lyrics
(Song by John Phillips/Michelle Phillips)

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

Stopped in to a church I passed along the way.
Well I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray.
You know the preacher liked the cold;
He knows I’m gonna stay.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
If I didn’t tell her I could leave today;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

Blood, Sweat & Tears, Petite Fleur and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”

Well, I hope everyone who celebrates it has enjoyed their Christmas Day. We were just four for lunch this year which is a really easy number to cater for so not too stressful at all. I don’t even feel as if I’ve eaten too much as instead of the usual breakfast, lunch and dinner with a few snacks thrown in, on Christmas Day you just have breakfast, a whopping big festive lunch and then not much else, so it all evens itself out nicely. I realise not everyone is quite so restrained, but it works for me. As for the presents, lots of lovely things as ever and my daughter, who knows me just too well it seems, came up with this very appropriate gift. It is sitting beside me as I type so lets hope I will be inspired by the contents which sadly aren’t of the alcoholic variety as I am on driving duty, but I don’t mind, which is just as well.

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It has become my routine of late to post on a Monday so didn’t want to veer away from that pattern just because it’s Christmas Day. Also, the great thing is that we no longer have to share anything Christmassy as a song choice – I don’t know about you but if I ever hear Andy Williams singing It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year again whilst shopping, I will start a petition to have it banned. Unless your life really is on the up, and absolutely nothing bad has happened in the course of the year, it’s tough being constantly bombarded with Mr Williams’ chirpy lyrics. I always feel for those who may indeed not be having the MOST wonderful time. At one point I thought we ourselves might be having a bit of a Blue Christmas (Elvis version) this year as darling daughter is a bit lost spending it without her special someone, my mum is a bit lost without her memories and as regulars to this place know, I myself seem to have temporarily lost my “purpose”. As it turns out however it has been a really lovely day with no “blue-ness” making an appearance at all, for which I am really grateful.

But here I am linking to festive songs whereas the song that has formed an earworm over the last week is something quite different. I have mentioned recently that over the last few weeks I’ve been working my way through all seven series of the television show Mad Men on Netflix. Well here’s a bit of irony – The final season hasn’t fully made it on to Netflix yet so I had to buy back the same DVD I donated to a charity shop earlier in the year after embarking on a bit of decluttering. No matter, all for a good cause, but didn’t realise I would get quite so into it second time around. First time around I hadn’t starting blogging yet whereas this time the carefully chosen songs that feature in each episode are doubly interesting for me as the late 1960s seems to have become my favourite era to revisit. [Spoiler alert: If you haven’t yet reached it, Season 6 is about to be mentioned!]

Megan

By the end of season 6, the main character’s wife had moved west to LA in order to further pursue her acting career. Megan Draper, the French Canadian secretary turned copy-writer turned actress, had always been captivating on screen ever since first appearing in season 4 but having set up home amongst the musicians and acting fraternity of Laurel Canyon, she seemed to have found her spiritual home. Her New York based, “Ad-Man” husband Don was suddenly an anachronism and it made for uncomfortable viewing watching the end of a marriage being played out on screen. Right at the end of episode 6 Megan hosts a party at her house in the hills – One of the songs played at the party was this one and although I had heard of the band Blood, Sweat & Tears and even seen pictures of them, they’ve never featured amongst the tracks of my years so I hadn’t realised they were responsible for this gem of a song – You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.

You’ve Made Me So Very Happy by Blood Sweat and Tears:

This beautiful song was written by Brenda Holloway amongst others and was first recorded by her in 1967 on the Tamla label. The song later became a huge hit for jazz-rock band Blood, Sweat & Tears in 1969, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 35 in the UK Singles Chart. But the musical surprises didn’t end there in this particular episode as to husband Don’s discomfort, Megan proceeds to entertain her guests with an impromptu dance to Petite Fleur, a jazz instrumental played by some of her musician friends. This piece of music was originally written and recorded by Sidney Bechet in 1952 but became an international hit in 1959 for Chris Barber’s Jazz Band. It was this version with the clarinet solo that provided the inspiration for Megan’s “performance” – Very apt for the petite fleur that was French-speaking Megan Draper (née Calvet).

Petite Fleur by Chris Barber’s Jazz Band:

So, “What’s It All About” – Sometimes we don’t even realise how much time and effort has gone into choosing just the right music for a television show as it just feels incidental, but once you start to take note, as I have done re-watching this award winning drama, it adds a whole new dimension to the experience. The Blood, Sweat & Tears song was the perfect choice for this party in the Hollywood Hills of 1969 but also bittersweet as that evening perhaps marked the beginning of the end for the two main protagonists. Megan had made Don “so very happy” and vice versa, but those days were soon to be in the past. The petite fleur would soon be out of his life for good.

But here I am blogging with my new mug by my side at nearly 10pm on Christmas Day – DD has invited some friends round and by the sound of the laughter from the other room, they seem to be making her “so very happy”. Time to seek out Mr WIAA, as it’s probably time to make him “so very ….. ” – No that all sounds a bit wrong. Time to sign off for today before I get myself into trouble!

Merry Christmas from all of us here at WIAA – Hope you’ve had a good one.

Until next time….

You’ve Made Me So Very Happy Lyrics
(Song by Berry Gordy Jr/Brenda Holloway/Frank Wilson/Patrice Holloway)

I lost at love before
Got mad and closed the door
But you said try just once more
I chose you for the one
Now I’m having so much fun
You treated me so kind,
I’m about to lose my mind
You made me so very happy
I’m so glad you came into my life

The others were untrue,
But when it came to lovin’ you
I’d spend my whole life with you
‘Cause you came and you took control
You touched my very soul
You always showed me that
Loving you was where it’s at
You made me so very happy
I’m so glad you came into my life

Thank you baby, yeah yeah

I love you so much, it seems
That you’re even in my dreams I can hear
Baby, I hear you calling me
I’m so in love with you
All I ever want to do is
Thank you, baby
Thank you, baby

You made me so very happy
I’m so glad you came into my life
You made me so very happy
You made me so, so very happy baby
I’m so glad you
Came into my life
Mmmm, I want to thank you, girl
Every day of my life
I wanna thank you
You made me so very happy
Oh, I wanna spend my life thanking you
(Thank you baby, thank you baby)