How Urban Form Created Classic Rock

A great many factors converged to create the culture and music of the 1960s. A powerful, but often overlooked, factor was the Los Angeles neighborhood of Laurel Canyon. A new documentary provides a case study in urban creativity.

1 minute read

August 30, 2020, 11:00 AM PDT

By Josh Stephens @jrstephens310

Laurel Canyon

Jeff Howard / Flickr

"Multiple interviews over Laurel Canyon’s four-hour span refer to parties, jam sessions, and spontaneous dropping in. Many of the musicians of Laurel Canyon did not seek stardom. They sought to collaborate, to hang out. Music was their medium for doing both. Friends and strangers alike knocked on doors, guitar in one hand and a bag of grass in the other, and invited themselves in to jam, co-write, and collaborate. This was, of course, before cellphones made distance OK and Spotify made albums irrelevant. The artists of Laurel Canyon lived in splendid proximity."

"Here’s why this matters: designers and planners could never create Laurel Canyon, either in form or spirit. They could never envision ramshackle cabins, the Oedipal fury of Morrison, the extraterrestrial weirdness of Zappa, the thoughtfulness of Browne, or the bemusement of Crosby. They just cannot. But as they go about their important work, be it bureaucratic minutiae or large-scale envisioning, they should remember that places can be special—sometimes, very special."  

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