Is there a historical time and place you’ve ever thought might’ve been great to have been around for whatever reasons? The combination of the lens of history and the imagination can make the grass appear quite green in different bygone scenes. For me, Paris in the 1920’s, Greenwich Village in the late-1950’s/early 60’s, and Swinging London in the mid/late 60’s are a few which stoke my imagination.
Another is Laurel Canyon for that brief moment in the late 60’s when the music world was shifting faster than people could keep up with. Thankfully there were artists and record company executives willing to take chances. Granted, the “free” in my title is subjective; artists enjoyed leeway to record and perform as they liked, but massive egos are a hinderance to freedom in the spiritual sense, and there was no shortage of those in the Canyon.
But it was a snapshot in time just before the money got absurd and the drugs too hard, and it’s not likely to ever be repeated. Today it’s snapshots I’d like to share in a manner which deviates from my usual format. Rock photography became a major art form itself and crucial to the music industry around this time, and in L.A. Henry Diltz, among others, was a major contributor among the emerging folk and rock glitterati. Perhaps I’ll explore that topic another time.
For now, picture yourself in a canyon in 1968 L.A., with tangerine trees and smoggy skies…
Mama Cass may have been the unofficial hostess, but pictorially and musically speaking, to me the most interesting road in the canyon led to Joni Mitchell’s house:
I recommend the following books to anyone interested in learning more about the Laurel Canyon scene in the 1960s and 70s:
The Mothers of Invention – We’re Only in It for the Money
With Frank Zappa, I’m entering territory where no matter what I say there’s always somebody who could claim I completely miss the point. Satire, musical experimentation, comedy, it’s all here. And I think it’s wonderful. Perhaps this opinion is an indication that I never would’ve been more than a wannabe hippie poser had I been alive and on the scene in 1968.
Or maybe not. And this is where a hard-core Zappa snob might say the joke’s on me when I ask the following: While this album is a dagger to heart of the Counter Culture (as well as the political right), was Zappa really above and beyond it all? Yes, he was most likely a musical genius, and no, he did not partake in drugs and alcohol like his contemporaries. However, did he not live in Laurel Canyon with many of those artists whose genre and lifestyles he’s making fun of here? Isn’t that Eric Clapton contributing a spoken word bit on the first track? Is his friend Jimi Hendrix not on this album cover? Can he not been found collaborating with the Monkees for jeebus’ sake? Whatever.
We’re Only in It for the Money was released fifty years ago today, and it’s a hilarious parody on the Beatles and practically everything else going on at the time on both ends of the societal spectrum. And, for what it’s worth, one of my favorite albums of all time by anybody is a Zappa album that will see its big 50th in 2019. As critic Robert Christgau wrote, “Cheap sarcasm is forever.” But when I’ve finished listening to this for the second time today I’ll probably pop Rubber Soul into the changer.