“Remember My Name”: David Crosby’s Memories, Insights and Grudges

July 23, 2019 § Leave a comment

David Crosby

There’s a lot to love about “Remember My Name,” the fascinating new documentary directed by A.J. Eaton and produced by Cameron Crowe. David Crosby is a great raconteur, and the fact that he’s having a late career renaissance–four new albums in as many years–makes this a far more dynamic film than the recent “Echo in the Canyon.” (Interestingly, Crosby enlivens that one too.) His eloquence and candor are evident throughout, and Eaton, an excellent interviewer, helps to organize the stories and put them in historical context.

We learn about Crosby’s family life–his father, Floyd, was an Oscar-winning cinematographer who shot some of the most important aerial footage of World War II, while his mother, Aliph, loved music–and his introduction to guitar via his older brother, Ethan. Success came early via the Byrds, but when Crosby was fired from that band he went on to even greater heights with Crosby, Stills and Nash, the first supergroup. After Neil Young joined the trio in 1969, CSNY’s debut performance at Woodstock was a high point of the festival.

Crosby recounts the heady days of his career as entertainingly and insightfully as we’d expect. And when things turn bad, beginning in the 1970’s–with his worsening drug addiction, the tragic death of his adored girlfriend Christine Hinton and the breakup of CSNY–he’s just as frank. But about one of his defining traits–a talent for alienating those closest to him, including the bandmates who stood by him in his darkest hours–he’s less open. Though Crosby says it can’t be a coincidence that none of his musical colleagues will speak to him, he’s vague on the reasons, aside from those that broke up the Byrds (speeches from the stage about the Kennedy assasination conspiracy theories, for starters). It’s striking that a man who’s wise enough to write an advice column has a blind spot about his character, apart from his acknowledgment that he’s “an asshole”.

Then there’s Crosby’s penchant for petty, permanent grudge-holding. Passing by Ciro’s, he recounts meeting Jim Morrison there and developing an instant hatred for him. Why? Because Morrison took off his sunglasses, saying, “You can’t hide from me.” Beyond the fact that this incident took place in a dark club more a half century ago, it should be noted that that Morrison has been dead for 48 years and never made it past the age of 27. But Crosby isn’t done with him yet. At his next stop, the Canyon Country Store, he eyes a photo of The Doors and says “I didn’t like those guys”, adding, “Morrison–what a dork.” In a final, mind-boggling slam, Crosby says, “I don’t think they ever lived [in Laurel Canyon]”–though he could have thrown a stone and hit Jim Morrison’s house from where he stood.

Things get better with a lengthy, photo-filled segment on Joni Mitchell, his girlfriend circa 1968-1969, in which she finally gets the attention “Echo in the Canyon” denied her. Still, there are some digs. Though Crosby praises Mitchell to the skies–“she’s the best songwriter and musician of all of us”–he also grouses about her ingratitude for his contacts in the music business, as if she really needed him to open doors for her. When he recalls how Mitchell broke up with him via a new song (probably “For the Roses,” though he doesn’t say) that she performed–twice–at a dinner party, we understand her reasons.

In light of his obnoxious, self-destructive tendencies, David Crosby is a lucky man, and he knows it. After serving four years in Federal prison for an assortment of drug-related charges, including running from the law, he married his longtime girlfriend Jan, had a son, and got a new liver (paid for by Phil Collins, though he doesn’t mention that generous gift). Despite professed financial problems, Crosby now lives with his family, dogs and horses on a ranch in the lovely Santa Ynez Valley. In light of his tumultuous, drug-fueled life, surviving to tell the tale for posterity would be feat enough. Instead, at 77, an age when most of his fellow musicians are retired or dead, Crosby is touring and recording new songs, unstoppable in his musicianship.

“Echo in the Canyon”: A Flawed, Fascinating Documentary about the California Sound

June 1, 2019 § 3 Comments

Andrew Slater and Jakob Dylan at ArcLight Hollywood 5/23/19/Hope Anderson Productions

Though Laurel Canyon has been home to musicians for more than a century, its musical reputation peaked in the mid-to late-1960’s, when the Byrds, The Mamas and the Papas, Frank Zappa, Carol King, Buffalo Springfield, Canned Heat, John Mayal, Neil Young and The Doors all lived there. The Canyon gave these musicians the perfect atmosphere for collaboration and creative ferment: close proximity to one another, a casual drop-in policy and sanctuary from urban distractions. The resulting songs have become classics.

Andrew Slater’s new documentary “Echo in the Canyon” is a chronicle of that heady time that features, among others, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Brian Wilson and Michelle Phillips. But the heart of the project is Jakob Dylan, who skillfully conducts the interviews, plays versions of the songs with his excellent band and, according to the Q&A after the screening, secured the licensing of songs that otherwise would have been prohibitively expensive, if not unavailable. Born in 1969, Dylan is not only the bridge between older and younger musicians but rock-and-royal royalty and a true heir to the California sound. Perceptive and humble throughout, he also provides the biggest laugh of the film. When David Crosby recounts, “Dylan was there,” Jakob says, “You have to be more specific.” Crosby smiles. “Bob was there,” he says, instead of the obvious “Your dad.”

Even for those familiar with the musicians and their work, “Echo in the Canyon” offers some surprises. I learned that the Byrds were the center of everything, influencing, and being influenced by, Eric Clapton and the Beatles, among many others. According to Ringo Starr, the Byrds were the Beatles’ favorite band, and Roger McGuinn confirms that the Beatles were the Byrds’. Seeing Brian Wilson, Eric Clapton and Steven Stills laying down tracks for new versions of their songs was another highlight. And Michelle Phillips’ delight at the new version of “Go Where You Wanna Go,” was heartwarming, much as I would have preferred her to sing it.

But “Echo in the Canyon” has notable problems. The structure is haphazard, and interviews are juxtaposed with long shots of Jakob Dylan driving around Hollywood and the Sunset Strip, cut with mysterious footage of a young man walking the same streets in the late-1960’s. Though the source of the archival footage isn’t revealed until later in the documentary, it’s “Model Shop,”a 1969 film by Jacques Demy starring Gary Lockwood and Anouk Aimee. In The New Yorker, Richard Brody describes the film:

…George follows [Lola’s] car throughout the city—and Demy daringly films that pursuit, and a wide range of George’s other jaunts by auto through Los Angeles, in the cinematic interest of showing not George but L.A. The movie is a virtual documentary about the city, a visual love poem to Demy’s new world.

While nostalgic, “Model Shop” has nothing to do with the music of its era, and its inclusion is merely atmospheric padding. Another drawback is some of Dylan’s choices of singers. Fiona Apple, Regina Specktor and Cat Power lack the style–and in the case of Power, the range–to sing these songs well. Beck is ill at ease singing harmonies, though he rallies on the solos. Apart from Jakob Dylan, a superb cover artist, only Jade Castrinos, who delivers the soaring high notes of “Go Where You Wanna Go,” succeeds in capturing the California Sound.

Then there are the film’s omissions. Jim Morrison, the most notorious Laurel Canyon denizen, goes entirely unmentioned, along with the rest of The Doors. While it’s true that The Doors’ music didn’t influence that of their musical neighbors, their absence is striking. A far more egregious omission is Joni Mitchell, who not only lived in Laurel Canyon during its heyday but is the only one of its musicians whose stature is still growing. (Among the myriad artists who’ve cited her influence on their music are Elvis Costello and Prince.) Yet Mitchell isn’t mentioned even by her ex-partner Graham Nash, a less important musician who contributes one of “Echo”‘s least interesting interviews. The fact that Nash’s most famous song, “Our House,” memorializes his and Mitchell’s domestic life in Laurel Canyon only makes matters worse.

After the screening and the Q & A, Jakob Dylan and his band, including Jade Castrinos, put on an excellent performance of songs from the film. (The soundtrack of the same name was released concurrently.) But the real surprise was the appearance of Steven Stills and Roger McGuinn, who performed with gusto. As Stills launched into a smoking rendition of “Questions,” my jaw hit the floor; I never would have expected to see him live, let alone for free. Unfortunately, my fellow Angelenos were less impressed: a sizeable number left  before and during the concert, apparently too jaded to appreciate such a rare gift.

Peter the Hermit in Laurel Canyon, Part II: Media Coverage

December 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

"Canyon Forms Queer Adjunct to Hollywood," Oakland Tribune, 3/22/31

James Zeruk sent the article about Peter that I mentioned in my last post. Dated 1931, it describes his Laurel Canyon outpost as “the film capital’s own Greenwich Village.”

A trendsetter in every aspect, Peter not only made himself a brand (in the 1920’s!) but dropped out of society in an era when doing so was decidedly odd. But the times eventually caught up with him: when Peter died, in 1969, the hippie era was in full swing. It must have been gratifying to see the back-to-the-land movement, which he apparently pioneered during the Depression, in full flower.

Peter the Hermit’s Laurel Canyon Phase, 1933

December 19, 2010 § 2 Comments

 

 Tom Montgomery sent this wonderful 1933 photograph of Peter the Hermit with his mother and aunts posed on his donkey. From left to right are Anne (Hicks) Siberell, Elizabeth (Hicks) Granfield, Dorothy (Hicks) Constantine, Margaret (Hicks) Montgomery, and Peter.  

As I learned from a news article, the Hermit fled Hollywood for the much more bucolic Laurel Canyon because of construction noise in the late 1920s. He probably commuted to Hollywood Boulevard by streetcar (see “Hollywood Before the Movies, Part III: Mansions and Streetcars,” July 6) in order to ply the tourist trade during this period and, as evidenced by the photo above, found additional subjects in Laurel Canyon. Eventually he returned to Beachwood Canyon, a much more convenient commute to Hollywood Boulevard.

If anyone knows the dates of his residence in Laurel Canyon, please let me know.

Hollywood Before the Movies, Part III: Mansions and Streetcars

July 6, 2010 § 5 Comments

The E. C. Hurd Residence (Hollywood Blvd. & Wilcox) in 1900/Courtesy University of Southern California Archives

The turn of the 20th century was also a turning point for Hollywood. No longer a farming community of like-minded Christians but not yet the seat of the movie industry, the village of Hollywood briefly became a garden suburb for the newly wealthy. 

Among this second wave of Hollywood settlers was E. C. Hurd, whose sprawling Victorian home is pictured above.  Hurd dug his fortune from the mines of Colorado and invested it in a prime Hollywood tract, on which he built a mansion and planted a lemon grove. Here we see his estate on the north side of Hollywood Blvd., with an early motor car–presumably his–to the right. Only the pepper tree in the foreground hints at agriculture; far more portentous is the Santa Monica-bound streetcar on the left. Part of the Pacific Electric Railway Company’s growing inter-urban network–soon to be the world’s largest public transportation system–the trolley car took passengers from downtown Los Angeles to the beach, though Hollywood probably was the more popular destination. 

Beyond the obvious, the photograph foreshadows Hurd’s own future in business. He would soon purchase the Cahuenga Valley Railroad and extend the line to Laurel Canyon, opening it to residential development. 

Perhaps the most famous Hollywood transplant of the time was Paul de Longpre, a French horticultural painter who arrived in Los Angeles with his family in 1889. After de Longpre discovered his ideal flowers growing in Hollywood, he met Daeida Wilcox, who  was so anxious to attract culture that she gave him her homesite, three lots on Cahuenga just north of Prospect (later Hollywood Blvd.), for his estate. 

The Paul de Longpre Estate/Courtesty oac.cdlib.org

The mansion and gardens Paul de Longpre built not only drew Hollywood society but served as a lure for new property buyers and tourists. So many visitors came to see “Le Roi des Fleurs” that the P.E. Railway added a trolley spur on Ivar Avenue to deposit them closer to the estate. Tours of the house and gardens, along with prints of his floral paintings, supported the de Longpre family until the artist’s death in 1911. After his family returned to France, the house and gardens were demolished for their valuable real estate, and de Longpre’s paintings–romantic still-lifes of roses, orchids and the like–fell permanently out of fashion. If not for De Longpre Avenue, most Hollywooders today would not recognize his name, let alone his art. 

Coincidentally, 1911 was the year Los Angeles’s public transport system became the world’s largest, with 1,000 miles of track. In Hollywood, the year not only marked the end of de Longpre’s era but the beginning of another, as a new wave of residents discovered the town: movie people. More on them in future posts.

Additional Sources:

Kevin Starr, Inventing the Dream: Southern California Through the Progressive Era. Oxford University Press, 1985. 

Gregory Paul Williams, The Story of Hollywood. BL Press, 2005.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Electric_Railway

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