My spiritual home will always be the rustic, windy thoroughfare that runs thru the Hollywood Hills connecting Sunset Boulevard to the San Fernando Valley. I grew there, not far from the main drag amongst a whole bunch of hip cats from the LA music scene.
My dad owned a record store in Hollywood and mom was a receptionist at a big recording studio. They met at The Whisky-a-go-go and pretty soon after that they had me; although, nothing really changed for them much. The old man still drove every day to the shop, and mom, after six weeks of breast feeding got clued up by Randy Meisner’s lady on the “freedoms of expressing” and pretty soon she was back at work too.
That left me to be baby-sat and raised pretty much by a bunch of would-be artists either working on their music or just chilling out. Some days I’d be with a Cass Elliott clone chasing chickens, other days just next door with a Joni person chasing two cats in the yard. As I grew, I heard The Eagles forming before my ears while doing my parents smelly laundry for a few bucks; heard The Doors creaking apart despite my best efforts to keep their house in order; imagined Jackson Browne writing “Doctor My Eyes” while ironing his stage clothes; rolled endless real joints for my imaginary Byrds. (One of the only photos I never had of me as a baby was sitting on Gram Parsons knee trying to play his guitar and Gram just beaming.) Then there was my other weird neighbour who looked like Frank Zappa, whom, well, I didn’t do anything for. Not really – “No, Harmony, there is nothing for you to do, just be.” That Frank was cool having me around because as he said, once I arrive, “Harmony prevails.”
Yep, Laurel Canyon was home and I had entire bands as my friends. More friends than I needed or wanted, really. It was the hangout of choice for every rock 'n' roll legend, or wannabe, who passed thru LA. So many “wannabes” often asked me, “Why Laurel Canyon?” I used to shrug and say, “Man, because musicians need to breathe the same air, you dig!” These were some of the best musicians of any generation, sort of by happenstance jammed into this beautiful, leafy, little neighbourhood. I had no idea how blessed I was at the time; no one knows how useful an active imagination can be.
The wild, innocent creativity that was the "hippie" era of the Canyon slowly degenerated into an era of wild excess fuelled by huge pay checks, coke and groupies. That’s when my parents moved to San Francisco, to save me, and that was cool for a while, but in 1980, after allowing me to be raised for a brief decade in The Canyon, in the incubator for popular music, and then moving me to The City of Love, what do you think my parents did?
Voted for Ronald Reagan!
Suddenly, a lot made sense, like why the old man drove everyday religiously to his record shop, and why Mom after having me couldn’t wait to get back to work. “Oh Lord! My parents are capitalists!” They made jokes about it at first, but I distanced myself; and every time they voted Republican I distanced myself a little more. I haven’t seen them since they voted for Junior Bush. What happened to them? Nothing. They were always capitalists. Unlike me and my friends, being a hippie was not a convenient fashion trend, man! It is the way I want to live life.
Still, when I hear music from that time pouring out of radios, iPods, and concert stages around the world, I feel a new wheel turning to the same undying community of the hippie. I believe the 60s, and sure, The Canyon, was significant only because that’s where the revolution began. But even those scenes weren’t bigger than the history. The ripples from that explosion are still drifting thru space. Make no mistake. The peace and love from that revolution was compromised and diluted by powerful, unnamed capitalist pigs who switched the drugs of choice – substituting mushrooms and LSD for coke and heroin - but it was not destroyed. Nothing can destroy peace and love. Not drugs. Not war. Not hate. Not if the peace and love be real. And that is a far out concept; the peace and love that revolutionised the 60s is alive and well in the 21st century, and that’s why the world needs the hippie now more than ever to let people know it’s real, and not some vague nostalgic trip on your iPhone. See, the new hippie like the old hippie is still digging the original message. But the new hippie has learned from the original children of the revolution and has tuned into the understanding that “awareness” and not “love” is really all you need. Dig it: with awareness comes everything, love and peace included.
It’s time to drop a pebble in the pond, to create a ripple and be aware of where that ripple is going, to learn, as I have - History can only repeat if we are not aware of what we are doing. Be aware - your country needs wares.
In 1963 my mother was 19 and living in San Francisco’s Ashbury Heights, working as some kind of secretary for The Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council. She was always flirting with the counter-culture in the Bay area, you dig, and in March of that year she was celebrating with some beatnik types around Chinatown. They were all high because Alcatraz had just been closed. At least one in that group celebrating was on their way to Alabama to lend a hand to the SCLC volunteers who were kicking off their Birmingham campaign against segregation with a sit-in. My mother thought that was beautiful and ran away with them. She described it as “…the point the rest of my life began.”
Around September 63 she found herself in the tiny enclave of Henrietta, Texas being a secretary for a local rancher and civic leader Mrs. Ellen Body. Mrs. Body was an important member of The Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. Important stuff, right! I mean, President Kennedy had personally formed this committee, so my mother probably typed up some very important documents for Mrs. Body.
It was no accident that on Friday November 22 1963 my mother was in Dallas, Texas standing on Main Street with some cats around 300 yards down from Houston Street. She smiled and waved madly as The President and the First Lady drove by smiling back in the warm Texas sun. She watched and waved until the motorcade turned right into Houston Street and disappeared. She was elated, like in orbit. Everyone was. Well, almost everyone. Pretty soon she and her friends tuned into some distant sirens and shortly after that, this weird feeling of distress kind-of rippled down Main Street and washed over them. Everyone around seemed to move instinctively towards Houston Street. My mother’s group moved with them. At the corner, they looked over Dealey Plaza and it was clear some serious shit had gone down. The panic was clear as day. People were moving round kind-of directionless. Some were running like nowhere. A few stood fixed looking dazed and confused. Their group moved towards Elm Street. Everyone on the sidewalk was chattering. They could hear - “Something happened, didn’t it?” - “It just took off…” – “What did you hear?” – “I did see that…” – “They were going someplace in a hurry…” – “Then a cop went running up over there…”
My mother asked a tall man in a gabardine suit, “Sir, what’s happening?”
He looked down at her, distracted. “What?…I…I’m not sure young lady. Something over there.” He pointed along Elm Street. “The President’s car sped up and the police sirens went on and…I…I don’t know…”
Someone in the group suggested going to a diner, but no one moved. They stood there waiting on Houston Street as if for instructions on their next move. Lots of fuzz began milling around. Many minutes went by before they heard something about a gun shot. The presence of the fuzz was now becoming conspicuous. Still more time passed and then my mother noticed a woman sobbing, “They shot him…I see’d it…”
“We need a radio,” said my mother.
One of my mother’s friends worked in an office a short walk up Elm Street: “Someone there will know what’s going on.”
As they hurried along they noticed a group packed around a parked car. The owner was sitting in the driver’s seat, radio blaring. They walked over and joined the group. Someone looked at my mother and said, “They fired shots at the President.”
Someone said, “Who’s they?” Someone else added, “Three shots.”
Someone else went SHHHHHHHHH and in a heart-beat all the noise was sucked out of the world until the only sound anywhere on the planet seemed to be the radio announcing: “President Kennedy has been wounded…”
My mother stayed huddled with that group around the parked car listening until the radio announced: “The President is dead” -
Many years after the revolution my mother wrote – in a similar diary this story was lifted from – an interesting reflection: “I remember when Joel (my dad) said We was all being screwed over when Reagan sent the National Guard into Berkeley. He said it again when Kent State went down. But then Watergate hit and he was in no doubt. We were all being screwed over.
“I called him a late bloomer and he got a little mad when I told him I felt the same way but in Dallas day they wasted Kennedy. I wondered then are We being screwed over? I got my answer pretty quickly: They shot Oswald and I knew We were.”
The 60s had begun.