Young girls are coming to the canyon

“At first so strange to feel so friendly, to say ‘good morning’ and really mean it, to feel these changes happening in me, but not to notice ’til I feel it, young girls are coming to the canyon, and in the mornings, I can see them walking…”  “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon),” The Mamas and The Papas, 1967


When I moved to Los Angeles in August 2011, I got in my car and started exploring the streets, the beaches, the tourist attractions and the famous landmarks that are mentioned in so many songs I listened to as a kid growing up in far-away Ohio.

The Pacific Coast Highway.  Venice Beach.  Sunset Strip.  The Santa Monica Pier.  Topanga Canyon.  Hollywood Boulevard.  The Troubadour.

tMV6BuuOne afternoon, I found myself on Sunset Boulevard, heading toward one of the nation’s meccas for every music lover and album buyer, Amoeba Records.  Sitting at a light, I looked at the street sign and realized I was at the base of Laurel Canyon Boulevard.  Wow, I thought, Laurel Canyon.  So much rock history there!

The main thing I recall reading about Laurel Canyon was how Joni Mitchell lived in a rustic cottage there in 1969, and shared the place for a while with Graham Nash.  They wrote many of their wonderful early songs there, including Nash’s “Our House,” specifically about the idyllic home life they nurtured there as one of counterculture’s better-known couples.


Stephen Stills and Peter Tork

I turned left and headed up the winding road in hopes of getting a taste for what the Laurel Canyon community was all about.  I pictured some sort of woodsy Shangri-La where hippie types strummed guitars on front porches, waving and welcoming passersby in for tea and a hit off the hash pipe.

How silly of me to expect that more than 40 years later.  That was then, this is now.

Laurel Canyon Boulevard today is a very busy, overtaxed roadway that brings way too much traffic up and down the canyon connecting the San Fernando Valley with West Hollywood.   Like other canyon roads that snake through the Santa Monica Mountain range and the Hollywood Hills, Laurel Canyon can be a peaceful exception to the hustle-bustle of the rest of “El Lay,” especially if you turn onto the dead-end side streets that delve even deeper into the lush greenery.  But on the main thoroughfare, the long slow line of cars driven by impatient residents and valley commuters have little patience for swivel-headed tourists who dawdle and gawk, wondering where the peace-and-love musicians have gone.

From the mid-’60s into the early ’70s, an inordinate number of game-changing musicians


The Mamas and The Papas

whose songs represented “the California sound” called Laurel Canyon home, even if only briefly.  The Byrds (Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and David Crosby) ruled the roost for a spell, as did John & Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas.  John Densmore and Jim Morrison of The Doors lived there, as did Buffalo Springfield (Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Neil Young).  Bands like Canned Heat and Love were residents, as were Peter Tok and Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees.  Even iconoclast Frank Zappa of The Mothers of Invention made his home in the Canyon for a while.

Carole King, who had first gained fame as a Brill Building songwriter in New York with husband/partner Gerry Goffin, moved to Laurel Canyon in 1970, where she wrote the songs that would end up on her exceptional “Tapestry” album, a defining record of the ’70s and, for a while, the best selling record in history.

John Mayall, pioneer of the British blues movement, moved to L.A. in 1968 in the wake of the breakup of his band The Bluesbreakers, and recorded and released “Blues From Blues-From-Laurel-CanyonLaurel Canyon” that year.  One track, a gentle blues number called “Laurel Canyon Home,” painted this simple picture: “Each and every morning, when the sun is high, I hunt around the canyon until I find a place to lie, it’s so beautiful to be alone, got the sun and trees and silence, I’m in my Laurel Canyon home/ Looking back a century, I look at where I stand, it must have looked the same as when Apaches roamed the land, it’s so beautiful to be alone, got the sun and trees and silence, I’m in my Laurel Canyon home…”

Perhaps most famous of the Laurel Canyon crowd was Mitchell, the Canadian singer-songwriter whose third LP, “Ladies of the Canyon,” was written there in 1969-1970.  The title song describes the innocent waifs and sturdy Earth mothers who inhabited the community at the time:  “Vine and leaf are filagree, and her coat’s a second-hand one, trimmed in antique luxury, she is a lady of the canyon…  For her home, she gathers flowers, and Estrella, dear companion, colors up the sunshine hours, pouring music down the canyon…”

The Doors’ 1968 tune “Love Street” (from their #1 LP “Waiting For the Sun”) is Morrison’s nickname for Laurel Canyon Boulevard.  He also references the Laurel Canyon Store, a images-46general-store hangout that still exists today:  “She lives on Love Street, lingers long on Love Street, she has a house and garden, I would like to see what happens…  I see you live on Love Street, there’s this store where the creatures meet, I wonder what they do in there…”

Long before this group of musicians descended on the area, Laurel Canyon had been an escapist place, a magical-forest part of Los Angeles where the noise and smog didn’t seem to penetrate.  Hollywood actors in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s found privacy there, a safe haven in which to conduct private trysts and experiment with drugs, away from the prying eyes of the paparazzi’s cameras.

In “Canyon of Dreams:  The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon,” an exhaustive history and exploration published in 2009, author Harvey Kubernik offers this 51ZqLeLTBEL._SX378_BO1,204,203,200_description:  “It was the place where you ran away from your parents, hid from authorities, wrote music, books, screenplays, hung out with bands, chart-toppers and pretenders.  The music it gave birth to — before swollen egos and swollen nostrils brought a heavy rain down — somehow still informs the soundtrack of our lives.”

In the book’s foreword, Ray Manzarek, keyboardist of The Doors, said, “There was always some kind of magic afoot in that Canyon.  The light and the sun infused that zone with a sense of joy.  There was always something spiritual about that slice through the green earth, but never more so than in the ’60s.  We had become the new tribe, and it felt as if we were spreading the message of (dare I say it today) love to a new world.”

Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night arrived in Laurel Canyon back in 1964 and never left,  raising a family, tending a garden, and becoming a stalwart of the community.  Today, he boasts the unofficial title of ambassador of the canyon.  “Everyone has this thing about Laurel Canyon.  It’s a mythical place for most people.”

The Wallflowers’ Jakob Dylan, son of legendary tunesmith Bob Dylan, has always been intrigued by the aura of Laurel Canyon’s rock ‘n roll heyday.  In 2015, he staged a concert with Beck, Fiona Apple and other musicians to pay tribute to the music of that place and Echo-in-the-Canyon-movietime.  He then collaborated with producer Andrew Slater to conduct interviews with some of the key players of that era — David Crosby, Michelle Phillips, Brian Wilson, Stephen Stills, Jackson Browne, Roger McGuinn, Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, even Ringo Starr and producer Lou Adler.  He also spoke at length with Tom Petty (his final interview before his death) about how the songs and sounds born in Laurel Canyon had a profound influence on him and other contemporaries.

The result is a documentary of sorts called “Echo in the Canyon,” which is currently making a splash in cinema houses around the country.  It’s kind of disjointed, woefully incomplete and flawed, in my opinion, but for people of my generation, “Echo in the Canyon” is a fun and invigorating 82 minutes well spent.  For younger generations, or those who aren’t hip to the influences and inspirations of the Laurel Canyon story, it will no doubt be an eye-opening experience.

A side note:  I thought my readers might like to know there’s a 2002 film called “Laurel MV5BNWNiYzg1ZTktOTBmOC00YWIxLWJmNzUtZDRhYjEwZjA0YmIxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc1NTQxODI@._V1_Canyon” starring Frances McDormand, Christian Bale and Kate Beckinsale that is well worth your time as well.  Said director Lisa Cholodenko:  “My film editor and I were listening to music one day, and had brought in that Joni Mitchell album, ‘Ladies of the Canyon.’  I used to love that record. We listened to it, and started talking about what the Laurel Canyon scene must have been like in the late ’60s-early ’70s.  I thought it would be fun to set a movie in that scene but changed to a modern context. And I just took it from there.”  It’s a quirky piece of fiction set in the Canyon that focuses on the evolving relationship between a hippie-type mother and her more conventional son and daughter-in-law as they explore sexual tensions and generational differences.

Photographer Henry Diltz, one of rock photography’s most respected figures, has captured hundreds of photos of Laurel Canyon and its most celebrated musical practitioners.  One such photo appears on the iconic album cover for the debut LP “Crosby, Stills and Nash,” which was taken in West Hollywood, only a stone’s throw from Laurel Canyon.  Another is the wonderful shot (below) of Joni Mitchell leaning out the D6949H_UIAA0ru6window of her Laurel Canyon cottage.  “I really admired these people and their amazing music, and I felt honored to photograph them in their milieu.  We are still close friends to this day.”


The Spotify play list below includes songs referred to in this essay as well as recordings from the “Echo in the Canyon” film soundtrack.




Memories light the corner of my mind

“Music acts like a magic key, to which the most tightly closed minds open.” — Maria Augusta von Trapp


The lady who inspired “The Sound of Music” got it right.  Music — be it classical, folk, rock, jazz, blues, country, any genre you name — has a mysterious way of opening doors to the past.

Listening to songs from our childhood, our high school and college years, and our early adulthood has a way of bringing back vivid memories, many of them warm and pleasant, others more heartbreaking or melancholy.  We may enjoy listening to more recent tunes on occasion, but newer music simply doesn’t have the uncanny ability to take us “back down memory lane.”

And that, in a nutshell, is why the use of music in the care of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia has shown such beneficial results.

Alzheimer’s tends to put people into layers of confusion, and a recently published study in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease confirms that music can sometimes actually lift people out of the Alzheimer’s haze because it can stimulate undamaged regions of the various brain networks that determine what we can understand and remember.

ou_120823_henry_300x225“People with dementia,” explains study co-author Dr. Jeff Anderson of the University of Utah Health, “are confronted by a world that seems unfamiliar to them, which causes disorientation and anxiety.  We believe music can tap into the salience network of the brain that is still relatively functioning, and bring them back to a semblance of normality, even if only for a short while.”


“All my best memories come back clearly to me, they can really make me smile, just like before, it’s yesterday once more…” — John Bettis and Richard Carpenter


“In our society,” Anderson continues, “diagnoses of dementia are snowballing.  We are taxing healthcare resources to the max as we try to cut through the disorientation and reach these people.  No one says playing music will be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but it might make the symptoms more manageable and improve a patient’s quality of life.”

A medical journal called Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine published a study of two dozen men living in a nursing home who had diagnoses of probable Alzheimer’s.  It found that when the men were exposed to specific songs multiple times over several weeks, they demonstrated an improved ability to learn the melodies and the lyrics.  The men also showed an increase in social interaction and more relaxed, calmer moods.


“Music has healing power.  It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours, or find a part of themselves they thought they’d lost.” — Elton John


My longtime friend Ginny Kallay is a board certified music therapist with nearly 40 years of experience in both pediatric and hospice care.  She has watched people diagnosed Cefni-40with dementia who have resisted communicating with family members and caregivers perk up when they hear familiar music.

“It doesn’t work for everyone,” she says,” and when its does work, it may not last for long.  But its can bring light to dark eyes.  Music has a remarkable way of getting through.”

Kallay gets input from family members about specific songs they know are favorites of the Alzheimer’s sufferer.  “There have been times when a patient hasn’t walked with or interacted with anyone for many days, but when they hear certain songs they recognize from their past, their mood changes.  ‘You Are My Sunshine’ is an example.  You see a light come on, a hint of a smile.  They have a more positive focus.  It’s really powerful.”


“There is a tune that, every single time I hear it, makes me think of my cousin’s Sweet 16 party, where I played Spin the Bottle with a boy whose breath smelled like tomato soup.  If you ask me, music is the language of memory.” — Jodi Picoult


Kallay said she has found that music can also relieve stress for caregivers, whose lives have been made difficult by the frustrations of their loved ones’ unpredictable behavior and inability to communicate.  “I have known spouses of Alzheimer’s patients who have been dealing with this for 10, 12 15 years.  It’s exhausting, and demoralizing.  These people need a lift, too.  I’ve seen how music can relieve their distress, lighten their mood for a while, and connect with loved ones who have difficulty communicating.”

A hospice aide once told Kallay about a woman in her care who began reciting and singing words to a song Kallay had been singing to her eight hours earlier.  “Sometimes the recognition or reaction doesn’t come right away.  But the seed has been planted, and it blooms hours later.  It’s amazing, really.”


“Like sunshine, music is a powerful force that can instantly and almost chemically change your entire mood.”  — Michael Franti


Petr Janata, associate professor of psychology at University of California-Davis’ Center for Mind and Brain, conducted a study about how music might stimulate regions of the brain undamaged by Alzheimer’s and other dementias.  “The hub of the Philip-Madore-Catherine-St-Pierre-06-23-16-1-C-1024x666brain that music activates is located in the medial prefrontal cortex region, right behind the forehead, and one of the last areas of the brain to atrophy over the course of Alzheimer’s disease.

“What seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head.  It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person’s face in your mind’s eye,” Janata said. “Now we can see the association between those two things — the music and the memories.”


“Where words fail, music speaks.” — Hans Christian Andersen


Music that we first encounter in our teens and early twenties tends to have the deepest impact and create the most lasting memories.  For those now in their eighties, that would be the songs from the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s.

I can speak from experience about this.  For a few years now, I have been volunteering a couple times each month at an adult day care facility here in Los Angeles, playing guitar and singing for elderly folks suffering from various physical or mental maladies, including dementia.  The music I play is typically from the 1960s — songs by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter Paul & Mary, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Elvis Presley, among others.

For these seniors, hearing songs like “Yesterday,” “Homeward Bound,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Do You Believe in Magic” or “I Can’t Help Falling in Love” can burrow through the mental fog to a happy place in their memory.  It’s so gratifying when I see a man or woman in the group who has been sitting still with a vacant stare suddenly start tapping their feet or smiling, or even attempting to sing along.  Those who are able are sherbrooke-community-centresometimes willing to rise from their chairs and do a little dance with a staff member, all because they hear a familiar song.

One woman I know has been slipping further into her Alzheimer’s fog, ever harder for caregivers to reach her and get her to respond to their overtures.  Last month, as a staff member helped her get situated in a chair, I began playing the chords to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.”  When she heard the chorus — “And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know, whoa whoa whoa,” — she visibly brightened, smiled up at me and began mouthing some of the words.  It was so exhilarating to me that the music I was playing had the power to bring about that response from someone who is typically unable to respond much at all.


“As the years roll on, each time we hear our favorite song, the memories come along, older times we’re missing, spending the hours reminiscing…”  Graham Goble


I’ve always marveled at how a song can instantly take you back to a specific time and place where you first heard it, or when a momentous event happened to you.  This can music-therapy_032917cs_009happen in everyone, whether or not you have suffered memory loss.  The way music can work its way into your brain and trigger your memory banks is, in my opinion, nothing short of miraculous.

What a thrill, then, to be able to observe and participate as music helps those whose abilities to remember and communicate have been progressively impaired.  I am grateful for the opportunity.


“The times you lived through, the people you shared those times with — nothing brings it all to life like a mix tape of old songs.  It seems to do a better job of storing up memories than actual brain tissue can do.” — Rob Sheffield