She Comes in Colors, Part Three

January 23rd, 2008

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The third printing of the LAUREL CANYON paperback will be out soon.

Which means it’s time for another groovy new color variation on Jermaine Rogers’ trippy-canyon-hippie-chick cover (above).

Whaddaya think? I certainly likes….

I Can See Clearly Now

January 23rd, 2008

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This dramatic three-part CanyonCam depicts an early-morning fog yesterday dissipating from the canyon proper—Laurel Canyon Boulevard sits at the bottom of that cut.

There’s no doubt some precise meteorological reason for the fog to form down there and then retreat on little cat feet: dew point, temperature, relative humidity, inversions etc. etc. But I’ll be damned if I know.

Drop a line to the atelier explaining it all and I’ll share your wisdom. What else have you got to do?

Heath Ledger, 1979-2008

January 22nd, 2008

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While Heath Ledger was most closely associated with his and Michelle Williams’ residency in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood, the actor, who died suddenly this afternoon at 28, also owned a house in Laurel Canyon.

The house is set back from the road and sports a covered outdoor terrace probably 80 feet long—perfect for entertaining.

And indeed when Ledger moved in he hosted a housewarming blowout with the traditional festivities and attendant cars, noise, etc. The neighbors cringed, wondering what they were in for.

The next morning, one of them told me, Ledger stopped by with a bottle of champagne, full of apologies. Nice guy.

Somebody driving past the house a few minutes ago told me that a bouquet had been laid discreetly by the front gate.

Germany Rocks!

January 7th, 2008

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The German-language edition of LAUREL CANYON is making quite a splash in, well, Germany.

NDR—Germany’s equivalent of NPR—named it buch der Woche (book of the week) and gave it a nice review, as has a clutch of newspapers and magazines. I would share some of these but the auto-translations I summon from Google tend toward gibberish like “although recalls but never anecdotes aneinanderreight unmotivated.”

Best of all, I am referred to in the press materials as “der renommierte Popjournalist”—or “the renowned pop journalist.” Which has a nice ring to it.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays etc…

December 24th, 2007

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…and thanks again to everyone for stopping by the ’site this year, especially those of you who’ve read LAUREL CANYON and shared with me your thoughts about the book, the canyon and lots of other stuff.

It was also great to meet so many of you at readings, lectures, festivals and bookstores this year. It’s my honor to have you as readers.

See you in ‘08—lots of new stuff coming up soon on all fronts, so stayed tuned!

Michael

Found in Translation

December 18th, 2007

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Himmel! Germany’s IQ Style magazine gives the German-language edition of LAUREL CANYON five freaking stars in its December issue.

Also, Rogner & Bernhard, my German publisher, shipped over some copies of their hardcover which arrived at the atelier this rainy a.m. and I must say they look pretty damned terrific.

The book is beautifully printed and bound, from Vorwart to Epilog, and even includes one of those built-in satin bookmarks like the King James Bible’s.

As Ted Nugent used to say when he played Cologne: Danke schon, baby

Click here to order yours for 19.90 Euros, the perfect gift for your Deutsch-speaking freunde.

Reviews You Can Use

December 10th, 2007

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From the December 4 Austin Chronicle’s Rock & Roll Books Gift Guide…

Walker eschews personal musings and lets the inhabitants reflect on the magic that lined streets with names like Wonderland Avenue. Graham Nash, Michael Des Barres, Mark Volman, Henry Diltz, and Gail Zappa are among the glittery whose memories of it are untarnished by time.

[He] excels in making the canyon come alive at its best, with the sounds of the Byrds drifting through the trees, Crosby, Stills & Nash lifting their voices together for the first time, and a particularly warm portrait of Cass Elliott of the Mamas & Papas. It was the Doors, Steppenwolf, Joni Mitchell, the Turtles, Frank Zappa, John Mayall – the California dreamers who rode the peaceful canyon breeze, if only until the idyll was shattered by the dark shadow of the Manson Family.

If you loved Positively 4th Street, about adventures of Dylan, Baez, Farina, et al in the West Village, LAUREL CANYON is its bookshelf neighbor.

Limited Edition

November 17th, 2007

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Want a signed LAUREL CANYON hardcover for you and/or yourn? Good luck. The hardcover has sold out at every bookstore in the U.S. save one:

The very last copies available anywhere can be found at Taschen books in Beverly Hills, California. Stop by or purchase direct from the store no matter where on the planet you’ve set up your crib. Contact: store-beverly@taschen.com

If you want a personalized inscription from me, da author, say so in your email to the store and I’ll hoof it over to BH and scribble whatever’s appropriate in your personal copy.
I’ve heard they make awesome gifts….

Of course, the No. 4 bestselling paperback edition soldiers on, available at bookstores everywhere in its second-going-on-third printing with the new, trippy cover…

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Burrito De-Luxe

November 12th, 2007

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Lend your ears to my audio interview for MEN’S VOGUE with Manuel, designer of Laurel Canyonite Gram Parsons’ iconographic Nudie suit, above.

The result of months of collaboration between Manuel and Parsons, who personally specified its stoner-signifiers like marijuana leaves, syringes, Tuinal capsules and naked babes on the lapels, plus flames and a resplendent cross on the back, the suit, Manuel told me, amounted to the benighted young genius’s self-designed shroud…

He was talking about the cross, about the marijuana plants, the pills, the hypodermic needles, the nude girls…There was a story there I wasn’t very aware of until like ten years after his death [when] I kind of understood where he was going with that suit…

I think he was telling me how he to wanted to finish his life. When his body was stolen to be burned in Joshua Tree, it reminds of making this suit, and the fire and the cross and all that. And in retropsect, I said, Oh, my goodness, this kid was actually telling me how he wanted his life to be…and how to end.

Welcome!

November 6th, 2007

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This is the official web presence of LAUREL CANYON: THE INSIDE STORY OF ROCK AND ROLL’s LEGENDARY NEIGHBORHOOD, by MICHAEL WALKER, published by Faber & Faber/Farrar Straus and Giroux.

The hardcover edition of LAUREL CANYON has spent five and a half months on the Los Angeles Times Book Review’s nonfiction bestseller list and was a finalist for the Southern California Booksellers Association’s Book Award. The paperback edition debuted at No. 5 on the Times bestseller list in June and hit No. 4 in August.

LAUREL CANYON tells the true story of the remarkable events that transpired in Laurel Canyon, a eucalyptus-scented retreat located above the Sunset Strip in L.A., during the 1960s and 1970s.

“…charts the highs and lows of a celebrated part of music history”–Renee Montagne, co-host, National Public Radio ‘Morning Edition’

Laurel Canyon was where Crosby Stills & Nash sang together for the first time (in Mama Cass Elliot’s living room; or was it Joni Mitchell’s?); where Mitchell wrote her masterpiece “Ladies of the Canyon” and Nash the CSNY classic “Our House”; where Frank Zappa held court in a log cabin and Jackson Browne slept in the laundry room of a benefactor; and where Byrds, Turtles, Animals, Steppenwolves and Doors reset the thermostat of pop culture wordwide.

You’ll find all that and much more in the pages of LAUREL CANYON.

A winding, inviting…portrait of a bohemian quarter that played a prominent role in the foundation of rock music…”–New York Times Book Review

In the meantime, I invite you to explore the website where you’ll find my impressions about daily life here in the canyon, where I’ve lived for the past 10 years, as well as untold hours of supplemental material from my research, including my recorded interviews with Graham Nash, Chris Hillman and others (click the AUDIO INTERVIEWS button in the column to the right), plus all manner of digressions into topics that I find amusing. Hope you enjoy!…MICHAEL WALKER

Michael Walker

Michael Walker has written about popular culture for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Men’s Vogue and other national publications. He lives in Laurel Canyon.

Also, check out the author’s profile on literati.net and booktour.com.

BUY LAUREL CANYON

LAUREL CANYON is sold at Borders and Barnes and Noble stores nationwide and at leading independent bookstores here and in the U.K. You can purchase the book worldwide online through Barnes and Noble, Amazon and also through the independent Southern California booksellers Book Soup, Dutton’s, Vroman’s and Diesel Malibu.

The German-language edition has just been published by Rogner & Bernhard, on sale throughout Germany and online.

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REVIEWS of LAUREL CANYON

New York Times–”A winding, inviting…portrait of a bohemian quarter that played a prominent role in the foundation of rock music.”

Salon–“…Walker, who has written about pop culture for the Los Angeles Times and Rolling Stone, has created an exhaustively researched and richly anecdotal book that will fascinate both rock aficionados and cultural historians…”

Rolling Stone–”Michael Walker’s book operates off the intriguing premise that there was something psycho-geographically special about [Laurel Canyon] that helped create the Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash. His historical framing devices add depth, whether he’s writing about the liberated “ladies of the canyon” of the Sixties upsetting social conventions, or the fact that Ulysses S. Grant and Pope Leo XIII were both “partisans of a cocaine-laced wine called Vin Mariani”…

Los Angeles Times Book Review–“Overdue…By the end of Walker’s wistful narrative you begin to wish that the old log cabin at Laurel Canyon and Lookout Mountain would rise again, Brigadoon-like, in this dire era of American Idol and Clear Channel.”

TimeOut New York–”Walker is a dogged fact-finder, and the details he assembles here about various members of the L.A. rock royalty constitute essential reading for music fans who’ve always wondered how true to life Our House was, or why Zappa abstained from drugs while making records seemingly designed to soundtrack the act of getting stoned.”

The Age, Australia’s national newspaper “….a fast and wild ride, strewn with A-list celebrity anecdotes and affectionate contextualising of some of the great rock records of the ’60s and ’70s.”

Music Connection–”Journalist Michael Walker’s new book is loaded with anecdotes, insights and observations rendered in crystalline prose that, in just under 250 pages, presents a history of what is perhaps Los Angeles’ most renowned music neighborhood…”

Harp Magazine–”Walker, who resides in the Canyon, evokes the magic of the place wonderfully, particularly the mythic birth of CSN. The inclusion of figures like Frank Zappa and the Mothers, who’ve often been left out of histories of the time, serves to prove that the scene was not just filled with peaceful, easy, harmony-happy country-rock bands.”

Buffalo News–”…likely the definitive account of this locale and its impact on pop music and culture. Walker lives in the heart of the canyon, but doesn’t allow his residency to sway his writing…That’s why even if one could care less about Jackson Browne or the insufferable Eagles, ‘Laurel Canyon’ is a fun, dishy read…”

Cameron Crowe, Oscar-winning writer and director, Almost Famous–”Laurel Canyon is hilarious and true and bittersweet. Michael Walker catches the mood in the air, and gets it right the interviews are wonderful its a beautifully-written document of that time and place when the personalities were as big as those stony dreams that fueled some of the greatest masterpieces in rock.”

Stephen Gaines, author of the New York Times bestseller Philistines at the Hedgerow–”Laurel Canyon captures all the magic and lyricism of an almost mythological geographical spot in the history of pop music. The book lovingly limns the story of a more melodious time in rock and roll where the great talents of the 60s and 70s cloistered together in a sort of enchanted valley populated by an all-star cast of characters, including Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, Mama Cass and Brian Wilson.”

California Dreamer

November 4th, 2007

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Henry Diltz was Laurel Canyon’s court photographer. Along with Baron Wolman and Jim Marshall, Henry essentially invented “rock photography” though he’d hardly planned on it. (He sold his first photo, of the Buffalo Springfield posing in front of a psychedelic mural, after impulsively accepting Stephen Stills’ invitation to join the band at a gig in Redondo Beach, California.)

A fine musician and founding member of the Modern Folk Quartert, Henry shot thousands of intimate photos of his friends and neighbors in the canyon like Joni Mitchell, Cass Elliot, David Crosby and the rest, some of which would become defining images of the ’60s.

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Now 500 of Henry’s photos have been reproduced in CALIFORNIA DREAMING: MEMORIES AND VISIONS OF L.A. 1966-1975, an ultra-luxe, fancy-schmancy, 344-page large-format limited edition coffee-table monster with commentary from subjects like Mitchell, Graham Nash, Neil Young, Chris Hillman, Jackson Browne, Don Henley and the rest of the canyon mafia.

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It’s available for $600 for the 2,000-copy limited edition and $1,350 for a deluxe version at the Taschen bookstore in Beverly Hills.
As it happens, Henry and I will appear together at Taschen Wednesday evening, November 14, to discuss the L.A. and Laurel Canyon music scenes and sign our respective books. (Taschen has laid in some of the last copies of the LAUREL CANYON hardcover for the event; if you’ve been pining for a signed hardcover edition, this may be your last chance.)

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Those who’ve caught Henry and me at our previous gigs, from the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood to the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, know it’ll be a night rich with history, good humor and a chance to re-connect with one of L.A.’s most fertile artistic moments.

Reviews You Can Use

October 31st, 2007

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Check out this thoughtful review of LAUREL CANYON, posted yesterday, from Mayday Books in Minneapolis. Here’s an excerpt…

This book is about the effect this L.A. canyon, and the people who lived in it, had on rock and folk music in the 60s, 70s and beyond. The issue relates to what I consider to be the essence of creativity – an environment where like-minded people can work together to increase the value of their art.

History is replete with this happening - the Bloomsbury group in London, the writers and painters of the 20s and 30s in Paris, the groups of U.S. transcendentalists and other writers in Concord MA and Hartford, CT; the Bolshevik culturalists after the revolution in Moscow; and the later bohemians of Greenwich Village, the Algonquin Hotel and North Beach. Musically, there were the hippie bands of San Francisco, and all the music incubator cities, like Memphis, Nashville, New York, Athens, Seattle and, even, Minneapolis. And there was Laurel Canyon in LA.

Why does this matter? Because essentially, when a local music or cultural scene matures, it has more power over the corporate controllers of culture than it would if the corporations ‘created’ the music, or they ‘discovered’ the talent, or they ‘decided’ on the trends. The best music comes out of local roots. So does the best literature and painting. It is the answer to corporate culture. Local scenes can ‘explode’ on a national and international level. To paraphrase, it takes a village to raise a good art form…

I did not really understand the interrelationships between the bands and musicians in LA until this book. I viewed LA rock as somewhat sterile, and isolated, and more driven by commercialism. I thought the situation of a creative enclave was reserved for San Francisco at the time. However, a similar scene happened in LA, close to the music clubs of the Sunset Strip, and also Hollywood and the mainstream music industry.

Laurel Canyon musicians and those in the industry jammed together constantly in the houses of the canyon, mixing with artists and dancers, then went down to the “Strip” clubs, to play, watch other musicians, or plan deals. All this outside of Hollywood or the record factories churning out Vic Damone. And they slowly changed those industries….

Friendly Fire

October 30th, 2007

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Was billeted at the Atelier Midwest last week and so followed from afar the Southern California wildfires’ relentless progress—if you can call it that.

People in the Northeast are bitching about the fall foliage going direct to brownout (climate change, ahoy!) but the maples especially I saw last week were blazing with color and so I share them with you…

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Earth, Wind and Fire

October 23rd, 2007

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As the wildfires relentlessly devastate the periphery of Los Angeles, it’s instructive to recall just how bad things can get in L.A. proper.

Nobody who lived through it will ever forget the Sept. 16, 1979 Laurel Canyon/Kirkwood Bowl fire, which blossomed out of nowhere one smoggy Sunday and within four hours consumed 23 homes, including those of blues-rock legend John Mayall and Whisky a Go-Go co-founder Elmer Valentine.

As recounted in LAUREL CANYON…

September 16, 1979 dawned hot and smoggy in Los Angeles, a Sunday like a hundred others during the fall…It’s possible for the rest of the year to pretend that the city is a vast oasis…In fact, Los Angeles is a desert with an annual average rainfall of 15 inches and usually no rain at all between April and November.

In early autumn hot, dry winds—the fabled Santa Anas—come howling out of the Mojave Desert…Canyons funnel the superheated air, often at gale force, straight into the L.A. basin. The humidity plunges and the temperature soars: 102, 104, 107.

Chaparral and eucalyptus with resinous, highly flammable foliage heave and rustle in the winds, wicks waiting for the flame. When it comes—and it always does, because this is the natural order of things—the fire burns ferociously, the wind acting like a blowtorch. One-hundred-foot eucalyptus simply explode; at night moist air from the ocean drifts over the inferno triggering hellish tornadoes of flame that whirl through the ruined hillsides.

The fire wishes only to burn all the way to the sea, as it has done for millennia; and so Los Angeles, having been built in its path, burns, too. On September 16, 1979, fire came to Laurel Canyon as never before.

It started at around 2 in the afternoon on the canyon’s southwestern flank. Almost immediately huge flames were menacing Grandview Drive, built shoulder to shoulder with homes possessing some of the best views in the city.

The fire came so suddenly that most escaped only with the clothes on their backs. Some gamely hurled whatever possessions they could grab—Waterford crystal, a porcelain statue—into swimming pools. Within minutes 23 houses on Grandview and adjoining Colecrest Drive were burning out of control.

At 8353 Grandview, John Mayall and his guests were watching a movie in the screening room of his beloved three story house. Mayall had been so taken by the canyon that before he moved there he recorded a song-cycle, Blues from Laurel Canyon…now, within minutes, it was gone.

Mayall and his guests escaped just before the house was engulfed. The fire was so intense it melted his 19-year-old son Jason’s 1958 Volvo sedan. As with Chris Hillman’s house just up the hill on Magnolia, which burned on a similarly hot, witchy day in the ‘60s, Mayall’s house seemed to have succumbed to the canyon’s rock and roll curse: the fire mowed down nearly every house on Grandview that overlooked L.A. but spared all those on the canyon side save his….

The Gilded Palace of Gram

October 21st, 2007

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Check out my essay about ex-canyonite and country-rock-whatever avatar Gram Parsons and the new biography 20,000 Roads in this months’ Men’s Vogue.

Later this week the Men’s Vogue website will post my audio interview with the renowned Manuel, designer of Parsons’ famed Nudie suit (above), resplendent with marijuana leaves, naked babes on the lapels, Tuinal capsules and that blazing red cross that seemed to portend Parsons’ famously untimely demise in Joshua Tree, California when he just 26 years old.

Laurel Canyon Photo Day, 2007

October 21st, 2007

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The multitudes turned out this afternoon for the annual group photo on the hanging terraces of the Canyon Country Store—the event tinged by the melancholy of sister L.A. canyons Malibu, Los Virgenes and others battling Santa Ana-fueled wildfires of the sort that have torched swaths of Laurel Canyon in the not so distant past.

Below, some of the canyon faithful drift down from Kirkwood Bowl as zero hour approaches:

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Canyon style on display, below: floppy hats and outrageous tats…

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T-shirt backs with rock iconography were everywhere, from “Are You Experienced?”-vintage Hendrix…

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…to the entirety of the Clash’s “London Calling,” rendered in pretty-vacant punk green…

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As usual, I hung around, signed copies of LAUREL CANYON and got to know a few more of my neighbors—all were in agreement that we live in the coolest place in L.A. if not the universe.

Achtung, Baby!

October 19th, 2007

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Check it out, yo, the German-language edition of LAUREL CANYON is out in Deutschland complete with a fierce revamp of the original cover and an as-close-as-we’re-gonna-get translation of the original subtitle: Im legendaren Tal des Rock’n'Roll (literally, “inside the legendary valley of rock ‘n’ roll”). So true.

All in all, a beauty to behold—I’m particularly taken with the size of my byline relative to the book’s title.

Thanks to my publisher Rogner & Bernhard and to Bernhard Schmid, who painstakingly translated and emailed queries seeking clarification about things like the “flats” of Beverly Hills. (Bernhard worked on LAUREL CANYON while updating his English-to-German hip-hop dictionary—”dawg,” he tells me, is rendered alter, as in Na, Alter, for those of you who intend to engage in a little kicken on your next visit to the Alexanderplatz.)

Anyway, it’s an honor to have one’s book translated and I look forward to hearing from my German readers in whatever language they fancy.

We’re Ready for Our Closeup

October 19th, 2007

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Just a reminder that the Laurel Canyon Country Store’s annual Photo Day is this Sunday, Oct. 21.

The hilarity starts at noon with live music, food, drink and the usual indiscretions as the lords and ladies of the canyon gather for their group portrait. (I’ll be ensconced downstairs on the patio of Pace with a stack of spankin’ new LAUREL CANYON paperbacks ready for purchase and signage.)

LAUREL CANYON and this daffy website first exposed Photo Day to thousands around the world; it’s a worthy tradition in this city that never seems to truly embrace the importance of civic ritual, so hoof it on over to the canyon Sunday—the weather is supposed to bring a classic October Santa Ana which means tons of sun and festive summer-like hotness.

Rock Around the Block

October 13th, 2007

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Just back from Pasadena and rocking the house at Vroman’s bookstore at the second annual Art Walk, as good as excuse as any to close down a few blocks of streetage and set up tents selling first-rate artwork.

Also for spuds such as myself to stand on an outdoor stage and blast MP3s of “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” and “Bluebird” at top volume while blathering about the wonders of Laurel Canyon back in the day. Guaranteed routine-breaker.

Above is the mise en scene at Vroman’s just prior to the fun; note the presence of my trusty plush-blue Anvil briefcase, bulletproof sarcophagus for my somewhat less trusty Powerbook—we’ve been around the world together, and now Pasadena.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by, bought books and hung around to talk afterward—it’s immensely flattering to meet one’s readers and benefactors, so much more so than publishing in newspapers and magazines, which amounts to shoveling coal into someone else’s furnace.

And thanks to the awesome Vroman’s and Art Walk staffers for their forbearance in the face of my requests for technical assistance and sound reinforcement more suited to a Foghat concert.

Pasadena, Here I Come

October 10th, 2007

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A heads-up that I’ll be appearing at Vroman’s bookstore this Saturday, Oct. 13, at 1:30 p.m. as part of the second annual Art Walk, a daylong fiesta presented by the Pasadena Playhouse District and the Pasadena Society of Artists.

My gig takes place outdoors at Vroman’s courtyard avec rock-n-roll-ready sound reinforcement which I plan to use liberally and loudly to illustrate my discussion of Laurel Canyon’s creative foment in the mid-1960s, as heard in four seminal works about the canyon: CSNY’s “Our House,” written by Graham Nash about his and Joni Mitchell’s bungalow on Lookout Mountain; “Ladies of the Canyon,” Mitchell’s impressionist take on the canyon’s hippie-gentry; “12:30 (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)” by the Mamas and the Papas, and John Mayall’s “Laurel Canyon Home.”

I’ll hang around afterward to sign books and jawbone about any damned thing that comes up. Hope to see you there!