This year marks the 50th anniversary of 1969, the last year of the decade of the 1960s. The decade was arguably the biggest counter-culture occurrence in modern history, both in its impact on society and especially on pop culture. But the decade also ended on rather sour notes of violence and addiction.
Nevertheless, despite all the “flower power” and “hippy-dippy” cliches, the trends in pop culture were genuine for the artists of the era. Many of them were musicians on the West Coast, most famously the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, but also the Laurel Canyon district in Los Angeles. The new rockumentary Echo in the Canyon, from music artist Jakob Dylan and record producer/label executive Andrew Slater, focuses exactly on the latter.
The British Invasion and Greenwich Village folk scene may have been the most influential musical movements at that moment. But as music fans have noted over the years, the tunes coming out of Los Angles had a major influence on pop, rock and folk too.
Laurel Canyon is a modest, quaintly bohemian neighborhood right outside Hollywood that quickly became popular with many rock stars around 1965 to 1967. Hillside residents included John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, David Crosby of the Byrds and CSN(Y), Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield and CSN(Y), Peter Tork of the Monkees and John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful.
Echo in the Canyon couples Slater as the filmmaker and Dylan as our host. Dylan is of course the frontman of the hit alt-rock band the Wallflowers, and also the son of Bob Dylan himself. He’s not only our central point-of-view in the documentary, personally conducting the interviews with the classic rockers, but also shares his own insights, along with his own peers like Beck, Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Regina Spektor and Josh Homme.
Dylan and his pals also provide a series of full-length concerts and covers, including the Byrds’ “The Bells of Rhymney,” the Mamas & the Papas’ “Go Where You Wanna Go,” the Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” the Turtles’ “You Showed Me” and the Monkees’ “She.”
For any longtime fan of classic rock and the 1960s, Slater’s documentary is enjoyable because you get to hear the memories of the time period from the stars themselves. It’s also a treat to hear both the original recordings and live covers of these iconic songs, and the stories behind the songs and their significance. Slater and Dylan even got commentary from Brian Wilson and Ringo Starr about hanging around the canyon locals (because every piece on late ‘60s music is obliged to mention “Pet Sounds” and “Sgt. Pepper’s”).
Then I tried to imagine what viewing the documentary would be like for someone new to this music genre. There isn’t much backstory on the bands, unless you go into the film already aware of all their histories. And the narrative is a bit basic and hollow. Even though we get the tales from the horses’ mouths per se, I still felt like I had already heard most of the stories before.
But I ended up enjoying the movie as a whole anyway because the music is that good and I’m such a fanatic for that era. Seeing Jakob, Beck and Regina browse through vintage records of “Rubber Soul,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” ‘Buffalo Springfield Again” and “More of the Monkees” a relatable “stars just like us” moment.
Rock music fans will probably appreciate Echo in the Canyon—especially the soundtrack. But for the average film viewer, maybe not so much.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.