Here’s a book that I had been eagerly awaiting for quite some time, and for the most part it realizes my expectations.
Subtitled "Rock ‘n’ roll’s last stand in Hollywood", L. A. scenester Dominic Priore has fashioned both a history and a polemic, detailing the extraordinarily creative and wide-open Los Angeles area pop music scene spanning roughly the arrival of the Beatles in early 1964 to the Sunset Strip teenage riots of late 1966, which effectively closed down much of the music scene (said riots, and the draconian police and governmental response to same, being the inspiration for the Buffalo Springfield’s "For What It’s Worth"). Priore covers the whole kaleidoscopic range of Los Angeles music in the ’60′s, from Dick Dale and the birth of surf music, through the coffee house folk scene, Johnny Rivers and the go-go bar performers, folk-rock, garage punk, into psychedelia and nascent country rock, with look-ins at soul and jazz along the way. Priore also covers pop-art, fashion, Hollywood’s use of Rock in films and television (especially the Monkees phenomenon) and the long roll call of music clubs and hipster hangouts that were essential to the vibrancy of the scene – Pandora’s Box, the Whisky A Go Go, the Trip, Brave New World – names to conjure with…
A few caveats: I was hoping this might be an oral history, since the author has interviewed so many of the surviving participants, and, as fascinating as Priore’s account of the times and the place is, there’s little feel for what the day to day life on the Strip was like, for both musicians and audiences (well, maybe that’s a book for someone else to do…). As far as the polemical aspect of the book, Priore is pro-L.A., anti-San Francisco, believing that the focus of international attention was unjustly shifted from L. A. to the San Francisco music scene in 1967, the purported "plasticity" of L. A. being contrasted to the supposed Bohemian purism of S. F. Seems to me that after the late-’66 riots that formed the climax of the tale, there were no new bands emerging from the Hollywood club scene that could compare in influence or originality to the Byrds, the Doors, Love, or Buffalo Springfield (throw in the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas at the periphery of the scene), whereas by ’67 S. F. had a wide range of interesting new bands; the shift of focus between the cities seems understandable to me. Priore does make a great case, however, that before the San sound became the rage, Los Angeles had already been there, done that, in terms of innovation and creativity, and without the smugness and parochialism often displayed by Frisco musicians.
(One other carp: a number of the photographs are stunningly, cluelessly mis-captioned – though I understand this is the fault of an incompetent sub-editor, not the author).
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in ’60s music and pop culture. It’s a great trip back to a world the likes of which we are unlikely to see again.