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Hotel California: Singer-Songwriters And Cocaine Cowboys In The L.A. Canyons 1967-1976 by Barney Hoskyns (2006)


Barney Hoskyns is certainly one of the best historical music writers, having previously impressed with one of the best books on The Band (`Across the Great Divide’, later adapted into a show by Radio 2) and the epic `Waiting for the Sun: Strange Days, Weird Scenes and the Sound of Los Angeles.’

In many ways, `Hotel California’ is a successor to the latter title – where `Waiting for the Sun’ took in a wide view of LA, from artists featured here to the Germs to NWA, this book restricts its view more, and is superior because of it. Hoskyns’ engaging book generally focuses around Geffen’s Asylum label and various key artists of the 1960s who typified the hippie dream in California: The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Love, The Doors, and various acts that stemmed from them. If you enjoyed such books as Joe Boyd’s `White Bicycles’ or Barry Miles `In the Sixties’, you’re in safe hands here as Hoskyns charts the rise and fall of those ideals, blending music history with cultural history and charting the obvious excesses.

The sub-title `Singer-songwriters and Cocaine Cowboys in the LA Canyons 1967 – 1976′ which balances the Eagles-derived title (sometimes I feel like the Dude in the Big Lebowski regarding Henley & co!!!) – Hoskyns unafraid to criticise that band, though by the end `Hotel California’ (the album) reflected an unfortunate reality. Proceedings open with the Byrds and continue with the Californian scene and with artists such as the Springfield, CSN&Y, Love, Joni Mitchell (who appears to have slept with every male musician in California in the 1960s and 1970s!), David Crosby, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Gene Clark, Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young, Poco, Randy Newman, Tom Waits, J D Souther and many more. Hoskyns has extensivly interviewed and researched this book, so it’s not only extremely entertaining, but likely to be hugely accurate.

The one chapter on country rock and who the originator of that scene that ended with the Eagles and Alt-Country is probably the best thing I’ve read on that genre – Hoskyns not simply buying into the Gram = God thing, and pointing out that it was a fairly recent thing that Parsons was lionised for his brief and brilliant career (I thought it was interesting how Keith Richards dumped Parsons, ironic when he turns up gushing about him and he hadn’t spoken to him in his final years!).

I like the fact there are many views – was it the Dillards album? Ricky Nelson? Sweetheart of the Rodeo? I’m probably with Chris Hillman in this chapter, who plumps for the first Dillard & Clark album – a record I was familiar with only via the few tracks on the `Flying High’ compilation and one I had to own after reading this. It should be pointed out that you may very well want to read this book to the music here, in fact, it probably makes more sense – knowing the inter-personal history of Crosby and Mitchell here, `If I Could Only Remember My Name’ and `Blue’ make much more sense!!!

I found this a hugely enjoyable read, despite the fact I was relatively familiar with much of the events, having read that huge book on the Byrds by Johnny Rogan, the over-long `Shakey’ and being aware of Parsons’ story through the recent documentaries and movies (you may want to view the overlooked movie `Laurel Canyon’ alongside Hal Ashby’s `Shampoo’). The utopia perhaps nailed by David Crosby with `Renaissance Fair’ or by Arthur Lee with `You Set the Scene’ failed to materialise – cocaine, excess, and the resulting behaviour punctured that brief dream alongside Altamont and the Manson Family. What started with the rootsy acts nodding to Americana and creating country-rock/alt-country/new country, lead to the FM-friendly dilution that was the Eagles – a band just too hard to like!

The delusion that these people made a difference is underlined towards the end when David Anderle gripes that contemporary acts aren’t engaged politically as they were at the time and no one is singing about what Bush has been doing of late. Yes, apart from: Neil Young (`Living with War’), Tom Waits (`Real Gone’), Bruce Springsteen (his protest songs of late), Eminem (`Mosh’), Madonna (`American Life’), Radiohead (Hail to the Thief’), Joe Lally (`There to Here’), Bob Dylan (`Modern Times’), Julian Cope (`Dark Orgasm’), John Cale (the return to his live set of `Ready for War’), REM, Patti Smith, Thom Yorke, The Dixie Chicks, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Primal Scream, Muse, Damon Albarn, The Rolling Stones (`Sweet Neo-Con’), Kanye West, Elbow, Sparks (`Baby – Can I Invade Your Country?’), Psychic TV (a track on their new album makes a link live with the Iraq war), Steve Earle, Dan Berns etc etc!!!!

So perhaps the Big Chill was correct showing how the hippy generation sadly sold out and very few of them remained true to their ideals – thank god for Genesis Breyer P-Orridge I say! Highly recommended regardless!!!

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Book Hotel California: Singer-songwriters and Cocaine Cowboys in the L.A. Canyons 1967-1976 by Barney Hoskyns | | Leave a comment