In popular culture, the causal relations among music, personae and prevailing social conditions are, perhaps, nowhere more complex or revealing than in the shifting tableau of Los Angeles during the 1970s. Therefore, it's an occasion for delight that Barney Hoskyns's new book, Hotel California, weaves a coherent and compelling narrative from the dross of a troubled age.
Subtitled The true-life adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles and their many friends, this book is quite properly conceived as a biography of a place in which the network of lives creates a singular organism -- in this instance, the music scene of Laurel Canyon and environs in the decade before Reagan became president. It is Hoskyns's particular genius to illuminate those critical moments between artistic epiphanies and socio-political eruptions that holds together this vast mosaic of associations, obsessions, ambitions, enmities, loves, and yes, even fortuitous calamities.
Via the central metaphor of canyon culture, Hoskyns traces his mercurial dissidents-of-flux as they negotiate and navigate the labyrinth of Hollywood's unstable psychography: "A warren of winding, precipitous lanes, Laurel Canyon drew rock and roll people in the same way it had attracted artists of all types for half a century. Rising between the flatlands of Los Angeles to the south and the San Fernando Valley to the north, the canyon was above it all -- a funky Shangri-la for the laid-back and long-haired, who perched in cabins with awesome views of L.A.'s sprawling basin."
Brilliantly imagined and gracefully executed, Hoskyns's achievement here is astonishing not least for its insight, but also for its essential humanity.
Hotel California is a masterful, comprehensive synthesis of the aesthetic, social and commercial vicissitudes informing a musical language that became more than a soundtrack of our lives but, indeed, a document of America itself.