The City of Angels in the 1960s – perhaps the Municipality of Mad Men would have been a better name for La La Land.
Any music fan knows it was the epicenter of musical magic, but dark forces often could be found lurking in the background, more than just the Creepy Crawlers and bad LSD trips. Some of it came from within. That famous opening from A Tale of Two Cities could very well have been written about Southern California circa 1965 instead of the French Revolution: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us . . .”
Everybody Had An Ocean: Music and Mayhem in 1960s Los Angeles, written by William McKeen, associate dean of the College of Communication and chairman of the Department of Journalism at Boston University, (from which I graduated many years ago), captures the crazy – Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, John Phillips, Jim Morrison - and the cool – same folks, actually. But what makes this book brilliant is the inclusion of the peripheral crazy and attempting-to-be-cool characters – Murry Wilson, Eugene Landy, Mr. Helter Skelter, even the guys who kidnapped Frank Sinatra Jr. and killed Bobby Fuller. Their impact is an integral part of the story and really makes one wonder what would have happened without their presence. Video killed the radio star in the 1980s, but evil took hold long before that.
Luckily, the demons, personal or otherwise, didn’t finish wreaking havoc until the tail end of the decade, after all the brilliancy was captured on vinyl. Surf and muscle car music, rock n roll, folk music, country music, R and B – it all collided in the ‘60s, as did the folks who made it. The collaborations that came from the shores of the Pacific – Brian Wilson with Jan and Dean, David Crosby with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, and eventually Neil Young, Neil Young with Stephen Stills, David Crosby with Joni Mitchell . . . the list goes on. But heady times turned to strange time. Charlie Manson tried to be one of them and we all know how that went. The beginning of the end, with Altamont bringing 1969 to a violent conclusion.
The devil really is in the details of 1960s L.A. Makes you think, doesn’t it?