Legends of the Canyon: The Music and Magic of 1960s Laurel Canyon

Legends of the Canyon: The Music and Magic of 1960s Laurel Canyon


First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2010, Volume 17, #10

Written by John Metzger

Thu October 28, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT


Aside from the fact that there is a sizeable portion of the population that came of age in the 1960s, there is a reason why historians, authors, and artists continue to offer their thoughts on the era. It was, after all, a fascinating time in American history as the country entered an extended period of cultural upheaval, the shockwaves from which shook the foundation of every aspect of society. Itís safe to say that nothing like it had ever before taken place, and given the greater reach of corporations these days, itís equally true that nothing like it will ever happen again.

Told from the perspective of photographer Henry Diltz, Legends of the Canyon is, at least initially, a promising entry into the extensive collection of reminiscences about the changing music scene of 1960s that already exist. Specifically, Diltzís tale focuses upon the vibrant Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles. Not unlike the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, numerous artists from the counterculture called it home.

A member of the Modern Folk Quartet, Diltz bought a second-hand camera during a tour. As the group ran its course, he increasingly immersed himself in photography. Because of his inherent talent as well as his connections, he quickly obtained work taking publicity portraits for groups like The Monkees and The Hollies. He legendarily documented the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 as well as Woodstock in 1969, and his photos graced the covers of albums like The Hums of the Loviní Spoonful, Morrison Hotel (The Doors), and Crosby, Stills and Nashís self-titled debut.

There is no doubt that Diltz was in the right place at the right time. From his perch in Laurel Canyon, he witnessed a cultural revolution from inside one of several pockets of artistic freedom that were scattered around America in the 1960s. Nevertheless, as Michael Walker discovered while writing his book Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Legendary Neighborhood so much was happening within this Southern California community ó not to mention the world at large ó that itís difficult to capture all of it in a single tome. Naturally, because the limitations of film are even greater, Legends of the Canyon isnít quite as comprehensive as its cover might suggest.

In essence, with Legends of the Canyon, director Jon Brewer filtered the tale of the Laurel Canyon community through the prism of Crosby, Stills and Nashís career. The groupís ancestry, birth, and evolution are documented in the film. The problem, however, is that this coverage, too, feels superficial, providing more anecdotes than insight. Fortunately, Diltz continues to reflect upon the era with a childlike sense of wonder, and his enthusiasm helps to pull Legends of the Canyon together. David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash provide an abundance of commentary, while others ó like Van Dyke Parks, Michelle Phillips, and drummer Dallas Taylor ó complete the portrait, limited though it may be.

Although it is impossible not to walk away from Legends of the Canyon with a sense of envy, this has less to do with the movie itself than it does with the knowledge that already has accumulated about the scene. While it is certainly an entertaining documentary, Brewer focuses upon such a small portion of the story that his movie hardly could be considered an essential piece of the puzzle. starstarstar


Of Further Interest...

Fred Goodman - Mansion on the Hill (Book)

Carole King - Tapestry: Legacy Edition

Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel (DVD)


Legends of the Canyon is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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