A half a century ago, about the time Don Draper discovered oranges and sunshine on the West Coast, the Sunset Strip was the place to be. Before there was Haight-Ashbury, West Hollywood was the epicenter of all that was groovy. The post-World War II teenagers — those who went on to be known as the Baby Boomers — made the scene. Music was their everything, and it wasn’t long before their influence was felt in the world of fashion and entertainment. It was an incredible time, one that has yet to be replicated, and it was over in a flash.
Domenic Priore examines this heady two-year period with a remarkable attention to detail. While Riot on Sunset Strip is no longer than your average novel, it is so densely packed with information that it feels like you’re reading an encyclopedia. On steroids. About every 30 pages, a break is required for adequate digestion of the facts. And there are so, so many. 1965 and 1966 produced a mind-boggling number of performers and bands who lived and played in Southern California, everyone from the Beach Boys to Buffalo Springfield to Bono (Sonny, not the lead singer of U2). As the Strip clubs grew and the ones over 30 who shouldn’t be trusted started to realize the potential for profiting off the early hippies, a cultural revolution was born. Soon movies, TV shows, newspapers, radio stations — anything media-related — had jumped on the bandwagon and embraced the counterculture.
And then a different kind of greed kicked in. The establishment decided the Strip would bring in more money as a financial center. The powers that be got in the ears of the cops and trouble ensued. It was time to run off the youngsters so the area could be changed. A strict enforcement of the 10 p.m. curfew led to protests and those protests led to riots. Soon, clubs began shutting their doors and before long, the hippies moved on to San Francisco, the Summer of Love, and hard-core drugs. The Strip of the mid-‘60s quickly became a memory.
Priore documents this brief moment in time by examining each aspect of the influence of the Strip – the music, the art, the television shows, even go-go dancing. And then he does a masterful job of tying them all together, building one aspect of the arts upon another until the reader is thoroughly amazed by the impact of the Strip. As the wow factor settles over the reader’s brain, Priore then tells the story of the day the Strip died and the reader is thoroughly bummed.
This book is not just the story of the Strip; it’s a cautionary tale about the downside of capitalism. When you’re done marveling over all that was fantastic on that little piece of Sunset Boulevard, remember that history can and does repeat itself. In the words of Stephen Stills, there’s something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear.