Echo in the Canyon
Directed by Andrew Slater
Starring: The Beach Boys, Ringo Starr, Michelle Phillips, Fiona Apple, Tom Petty
Rated PG-13 for drug references and some suggestive content
1 hr. 22 min.
Young girls are coming to the canyon
And in the mornings I can see them walking
The Mamas and the Papas, 1967
It’s said that Papa John Phillips wrote that lyric looking out his window as young ladies made their way home from all-night parties and jam sessions. That makes sense. Up the hill from the swingin’ Sunset Strip is an era’s embryonic wonderland. The homes in Laurel Canyon attracted the marquee talent of a generation — the folk-rockers, the surfers, the guitarists who made 1964-68 a rapturous period in musical history. The spell is still cast over artists today. Echo in the Canyon reverberates through time.
This music-infused documentary was inspired by the 2015 concert of the same name, held at L.A.’s Orpheum Theatre. Jakob Dylan (The Wallflowers . . . and Bob’s son) along with modern talents like Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple, Beck, Cat Powers and Jade Castrinos gorgeously recreated the music of the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield and the Beach Boys. Andrew Slater, President of Capitol Records from 2001 to 2007, along with Dylan, decided to dig deeper into the Laurel Canyon legend, committing interviews and artistry to film. The results are astounding.
Alive with clips of TV performances (one with a brief, uncredited shot of Teri Garr dancing to The Byrds), Echo in the Canyon is rich with icons sharing their truths, emotions, mutual respect and awe. For example, the late Tom Petty, in what was his final interview, cites similarities to Bach in the counterpoint of Beach Boys songs, then offers, “I can’t see something in Mozart that’s better than Brian Wilson.” A profound estimation of Wilson’s genius and lasting impact.
In a studio segment, Wilson walks into a session as Dylan and others take on a cut from the sophisticated, influential Pet Sounds album, the work that inspired the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He suggests they change the key, plays along at the keyboard, then talks extensively about what went into his writing. From the Orpheum concert, Fiona Apple and Dylan sing the Beach Boys’ “In My Room.” It’s sublime, as are Dylan and Spektor revisiting the Mamas and the Papas’ “Monday, Monday.”
Roger McGuinn of the Byrds picks up his 12-string Rickenbacker guitar and suddenly “Turn! Turn! Turn!” is ringing out of the speakers. He shares with Dylan (who also conducts the interviews) that the denizens of the Canyon, “put good poetry on the radio for the first time.” Songs of poetic depth and grace. The likes of McGuinn and Phillips fused folk with rock and roll. David Crosby agreed. He associated the congeniality and creativity that swept from the Canyon to the studio with Vienna in the 1930s. Bohemians gathering, conversing, sharing ideas and wisdom. Graham Nash called it the Paris of music.
Slater has interspersed scenes from a period motion picture, Model Shop, to further reconnect with that time. Dylan travels to those remaining 1960s studios, down the hill in Hollywood. His interviews are casual and memorable. Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, producer Lou Adler, et al, share openly and candidly. They created, they participated, they survived the cigarettes, the psychotropic drugs, the alcohol, all manner of excess indulged during a tumultuous, transitional decade. These once-young lions, now greyed, lined by age, puckered by time, are still and forever youthful when their music fills the air. Echo in the Canyon reinforces the idea that eras are for a short time, but their impact lingers with no definable end. Brilliance does not grow old.