If veteran L.A. music journalist Harvey Kubernik was paid by the hour for work on his latest tome, “Canyon of Dreams,” he might consider another day job.
“This book didn’t take 18 months,” laughs Kubernik, fresh from book signings for the Sterling Press release in New York and San Francisco, “it took 40 years!”
With its coffee-table heft, multitude of images ranging from nightclub matchbooks to vintage color photos of ’60s rock stars and their hippie followers — as well as a collage of voices from that era — the epic recounting of Los Angeles culture from decades ago feels hand crafted, from Kubernik’s encyclopedic knowledge and his wide circle of friends and colleagues, including “The Mayor of Sunset Strip” Rodney Bingenheimer, Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek and former John Lennon p.r. guru Elliot Mintz.
Kubernik’s “40 years” refers to the time between his days at Fairfax High School and nights on the Strip, which coincides with an era when the pulsing heart of the L.A. music scene revolved around a few miles crammed with recording studios, clubs and a wooded stretch of the Hollywood Hills called Laurel Canyon.
This urban oasis functioned as a kind of creative commune for such bands as the Eagles, the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as well as singer-songwriters like Carole King, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and the idiosyncratic Frank Zappa.
The music, mirth and visual arts that poured out of this cultural collective is still very much alive for both the Boomers who remember growing up, turning on and getting down during those halcyon days, and their offspring.
“Half of the people who came to the book-signings lived through the era, and the other half seemed to be around 20 years old,” Kubernik says.
Kubernik’s book rides a wave of fascination with that time and place, following on the heels of the recently released Rhino Records box set, “Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968,” which boasts dozens of nifty Southern California Rock ‘n’ roll gems emanating from Hollywood to the Inland Empire; as well as Barney Hoskyns’ book “Hotel California: The True-Life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends”; and Michael Walker’s similarly themed “Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood,” both released in the last few years. Another volume that’s chockfull of vibrant images from that milieu, the photographer Henry Diltz’s denim-bound “California Dreaming” (Diltz’s work also appears in “Canyon of Dreams”), was published in 2007 with a $300-plus pricetag — a dramatic contrast to the $29.95 being charged for Kubernik’s opus by Sterling Publishing.
Kubernik seems somewhat bemused by some of the extreme adoration he’s encountered from fans of the era, noting that more than one critic has called the ’60s Laurel Canyon scene, “the Paris Left Bank of its time.” But clearly he’s also still enamored with the lives and times of Los Angeles’ rock renaissance. His work benefits from not limiting itself to the often precious artists at the center of Hoskyns’ book, but also including earlier jazz artists like Dave Brubeck and outre geniuses like comics Lord Buckley and Lenny Bruce.
The author tries to put his finger on what the best of Laurel Canyon and the L.A. scene offered the world: “For the music acts, good songwriting is the foundation of the home,” he says. “But there’s also a powerful cinematic quality to almost everything birthed around Sunset Boulevard. The whole world looks at Hollywood and projects their dreams and fantasies onto Hollywood. So it’s no surprise when the artists here project those images back to the world.”