Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Go Where You Wanna Go

The thing about going to a documentary is that it always means I have homework afterwards.

I'd been eager to see "Echo in the Canyon" since I first read about it in the Post. As a major fan of that Laurel Canyon sound - the first album I ever asked my parents to buy me was the Byrds' Greatest Hits - I was understandably looking forward to an in-depth look at one of my favorite periods in musical history when, as David Crosby put it, "We were putting poetry on pop radio."

Then Jakob Dylan got in the way.

I get it, he was executive producer plus he was the onscreen talent interviewing the luminaries - Roger McGuinn, Steven Stills, Brian Wilson, Graham Nash, Michelle Phillips, David Crosby et al - who created the folk-rock music that changed everything that came after it. But one thing I did not go to see was him and assorted contemporaries (Beck, Regina Spektor, Cat Power) performing songs by the bands being featured.

Can you say vanity project?

In what was his last interview before he died, Tom Petty is the one "contemporary" musician who made sense in this context. It was great hearing how he'd been introduced to the Laurel Canyon sound: by answering a trivia question on the radio and winning a prize of the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds," which blew him away. When Buffalo Springfield and the Beach Boys played his hometown of Gainesville in 1967, he went, only to realize that it didn't get any better than what he was hearing.

So to have to watch Jakob and his posse singing the Byrds' take on the Goffin/Carole King-penned "Going Back" instead of the actual Byrds doing a much better job strikes me as, well, pandering to a younger audience. Given the decidedly older bent of tonight's audience at Criterion - what you might have thought was the target audience - I'm betting not a single person preferred to hear Fiona Apple doing "In My Room" over watching a vintage Beach Boys clip of the song.

Translation: too much 21st century posturing and not enough 20th century magic.

What did grab me was seeing old clips of these bands playing, mostly on the TV shows of the day. There was Buffalo Springfield playing "For What It's Worth," complete with Steven Stills in a ten gallon hat and Neil Young in one of his buckskin fringed jackets. Groovy, man. And the exquisite harmonies of the ridiculously young-looking Mamas and the Papas took my breath away.

Stills talked about the song "Triad," a Crosby-penned tune that got overruled for inclusion on "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" album because it was about a menage-a-trois. "Crosby was like Brando. He had no borders," his bandmate says before Crosby insists there's nothing wrong with a threesome or the French wouldn't have a word for it.

I'm here to tell you that looking at how cute the young Crosby was, I'm sure he had zero problem finding female companionship.

It was fascinating hearing how musicians would show up at each other's houses to play a song they'd just written or were working on. As several musicians pointed out, there couldn't help but be influences absorbed given how frequently get-togethers developed into jam sessions and song try-outs.

So while my reasons for going to see the documentary were twofold - to escape the ungodly heat and finally see a more in-depth look at how folk-rock developed - I came away knowing I need to know more.

For one, the initial inspiration for even making this film came from the directors seeing a film called "Model Shop," which was shot in Laurel Canyon in 1968 by a French director who felt burnt out making movies in his homeland. So now I definitely need to see that.

Plus I really must do deeper dives into some of the bands featured so I can better hear the cross-pollination that went on during this period. The Beatles said the Byrds were their favorite band, "Sgt. Pepper" was a direct reaction to "Pet Sounds" and everyone thought Brian Wilson was a once in lifetime musical genius, better than Mozart. I've got a lot to learn.

For what it's worth, we music nerds love a good homework assignment.


  1. We are going to see this today even though I've already heard it is a flawed work. Guess Jakob couldn't help himself. BTW - before I had left my teens I'd worn out two copies of the Byrds Greatest Hits. Saw them in '72 also. Lucky me!


  2. You are lucky, cw, I'd have loved to have seen the Byrds! I think you'll enjoy the film for all the old footage and the interviews, despite Jakob and his cohorts, but let me know what you think.

  3. OK Karen, I'll give you my take on this one....
    Yes I see the "vanity" aspect of this one or maybe who wants to hear newbies doing the originals. However it really didn't bother me none. I kinda took it they -- (Jackob & the others) were being appreciative. As one young lady singer said in so many words it was a magical almost sub-conscious thing-"Expecting to Fly." I'm a sucker for this period. Juz want to wrap my arms around it, squeeze it & hold on. I'm glad J. Dylan had the good taste to cover it & put it out on film. His wiry observations, his smirk are so like his dad. Love also all the interviews with the old timers. Little did they know they would be immortalized in the canons of folk-rock history. Loved the ending also -- Neil Young hammering it out solo -- no vocals required.

    what does it mean? Sortta like Crosby said, a place in time where it all came to together.

    Sad though when I think that in my lifetime I became political aware with the Kennedy's & now we've ended up with Trump.

    Ok -- like I said -- loved it...just want to squeeze & squeeze. Hold on Baby!


  4. I definitely felt that, too, cw, because the original music is just so fabulous, plus it was amazing to hear the principals of that sound looking back on it. So much insight!

  5. also want to see the Crosby bio & Leonard Cohen flick.


  6. Me, too! Both looked fascinating and pull from that same era. Not to mention iconic music!