We’re lacking context.
As a result we’re lacking inspiration.
And therefore there’s no competition.
What inspires you to be your best if there’s no scene? You can be the greatest singer in your neighborhood, on your campus, but if there’s no hope of recognition, no ladder to climb, you’re not inspired to take the chance.
There’s a Top Ten, but it’s not like it was in the monoculture, when everybody knew it, whether it be the sixties or the heyday of MTV. The latter illustrated the power of television. Suddenly acts were bigger than ever, selling more records and more tickets, you could tour around the world, you were a superstar.
Today Viacom, parent of MTV, lowers its carriage rates, because the cable provider doesn’t think its channels are worth it. They stopped calling it “Music Television” and all I know is they feature girls who got pregnant at sixteen, and the shenanigans they endure. Everything’s lowbrow, shooting for the lowest common denominator, our lives are ruled by clickbait, and you feel scummy when you ultimately get to the destination and find it’s just a way to sell you advertising, and that the info isn’t even what was promised.
It didn’t use to be this way.
Taylor Swift has Michael Jackson syndrome, she’s so busy being the Queen of Pop, needing to be on top, number one, that she’s missing the plot. The focus is not on music, but money. No one can have a hit every time out, you’re putting too much pressure on yourself, you’ve got to take risks to succeed. Once again, it’s about inspiration, in a moment, that you scramble to get down as you’re channeling the gods. “Me” is number ten on Spotify, with half the daily listens of number one. As for the video, this is akin to Michael Jackson’s morphing video. You remember what you saw, I dare you to remember what the song was. Maybe “Black And White,” or was it “Black Or White,” we weren’t sure which one Michael Jackson was, he was a party of one, out of touch, instead of bringing us all together, he separated himself from us.
“Echo In The Canyon” is not the first focus on Laurel Canyon. We watched all the clips at the advent of YouTube. But then there became too many, it was all about context, that’s your goal today, to create context, or universality.
So when you see Brian Wilson talking…
He’s strangely coherent here, the genius everybody admires as opposed to the mentally ill man walking and talking like a zombie. He needed to use four studios to get “Good Vibrations” right. Today, everybody records at home, otherwise it’s too expensive, and as for sound, everybody’s listening through horrible speakers anyway.
But Brian inspired the Beatles. The Byrds’ “Bells of Rhymney” inspired George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone,” and George even admitted it, he sent a copy to Roger McGuinn (wasn’t he still “Jim” McGuinn back then?)
As for McGuinn, he was the one to match folk with rock, when Dylan heard the Byrds’ version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” the light bulb went off, he wanted to rock too.
At least that’s what McGuinn says.
You see there was that cross-pollination, and that need to not only succeed, but exceed. You wanted to be better than what came before. You’re sitting at home complacent and then Brian Wilson puts out “Pet Sounds” and suddenly the Beatles had to make “Sgt. Pepper,” the gantlet had been thrown down, the challenge was there, do better than THIS!
And it was all about the music, after all, “Pet Sounds” was a stiff, followed up almost instantly by a greatest hits LP.
And Stephen Stills hears the Byrds and…
When Clapton and Stills trade leads, albeit in different cities, you’re jolted awake, that’s the power of excellence.
You immediately know it’s not the average punter. Your ears prick up.
But what you’re not prepared for is Stills’s wailing. Yup, he’s that good and he’s still got it. He was on side two of “Super Session,” and despite all the accolades for Mike Bloomfield on side one, I always preferred Stills’s work.
But he doesn’t get any respect.
As for Michelle Phillips…
I hung with her once, in the desert, when Wilson Phillips premiered.
Since then… Let’s just say she’s had work done. You can always tell by the shiny face. No one can age gracefully anymore. Every star seems to have had plastic surgery. Charlize Theron wasn’t born that good-looking, and now Alyssa Milano is unrecognizable.
But other than Joni Mitchell, who’s refused the knife, most of the denizens of the Laurel Canyon scene were not beautiful. Their music spoke for them. Otherwise, how would Eric Clapton get a chance with Mary Hughes?
And you can’t say all that today, the #MeToo police come after you. But the truth is beauty pays dividends. As do talent and money, sorry.
But you watch the clips and you’re astounded what a dish Michelle was back then. I mean I was around, but I didn’t realize it. And then she cheated on Papa John with Denny and he wrote “Go Where You Wanna Go” for her/about her and…
We lap up this rock history.
But there’s more. David Crosby admitting he was an asshole, Graham Nash believing music can still change the world…
And there are performances by today’s stars.
But what no one acknowledges is how hard it was to write the songs! To be inspired, to lay it down, to have a hit. That’s why we admire these legends, that’s why people sing these songs. But it’s nothing like the originals. They last forever, a huge contrast to today’s world of evanescence.
And the truth is rappers do inspire other rappers.
Then again, Graham Nash testifies as to the beauty of music, something that’s absent today.
Stills wanted to replace the usual suspect engineers. Today, everybody wants the usual suspects to deliver a hit. Taking responsibility, doing it your way?
But if you’re not in hip-hop or pop, there’s none of the aforementioned context, none of that pushing forward, no rising above where all of us can see you.
We pay attention to all those running for President, but most of us cannot only not name the Top Ten, we’ve never even heard the songs, even the young ‘uns, even people in the business.
Now the star of the show is Tom Petty, who’s so alive when he’s so dead.
And speaking of alive, there’s this singer Jade Castrinos. Not that she has the best voice, or a unique voice, but she’s got the music in her, when she stands on stage you feel the joy.
Kind of like Stephen Stills mouthing the words of “Mr. Soul” behind Neil Young when Neil’s singing “Mr. Soul” on television.
Now that Laurel Canyon era is over. But everything comes back, but with a twist. So personal lyrics with melody in songs written by those with not only talent but years of paying dues, practicing, will return. Could be supported by electronic music. Could be totally acoustic folk. The wheel keeps spinning.
But right now we’re absent the sixties California optimism. They lifted up the country and all the loose nuts and bolts came to Los Angeles. Not those who went to college and did what mommy and daddy told them to, but those who thought for themselves, and they changed the world.
And watching this flick it made me want to reach, to do better, to capture inspiration and hit it way out of the park.
Then again, I’m not sure what game I’m playing.
But you’ve still got to try.
But trying is easiest when others are pushing you forward, not to make money, to be commercial, but to make an artistic statement.
Those are the days that have to return.
We’ve got to get back to the canyon.