Our love for music often extends beyond listening to it. We want to know about the people who write and sing the songs that bring us the most joy.
There's no shortage of popular mythology — and hence books — about, for example, Haight-Ashbury, Woodstock, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead and all the drugs and music that helped define the hippie generation. Plenty of legends - and hence journalism - arose from the punk movement too. And Motown, the Beatles, Doo-Wop and jazz all have their devoted scribes and historians.
Enter British journalist Barney Hoskyns, the former editor of Mojo, to fill in a notable gap. What happened between Altamont and disco? How did David Geffen come tantalizingly close to his impossible dream of creating an "American Beatles" out of four bickering North Americans named Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young? How did the Eagles, with their perfect (too perfect?) symbiosis of country and rock, come to be the most popular band in America? How did Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, and Little Feat fit in?
Do you care? If you are among the millions to whom their music means something, there's a good chance you do, and Hoskyns's book will interest you. A speedy, somewhat disorganized tour through the L.A. musical milieu circa 1966-75, Hotel California is loaded with interesting stories and observations about those and other artists along with the managers, label execs, and hangers-on who helped create the scene.
One of the book's virtues is a taut style that conveys a lot of information in crisp bursts of prose. Equally important is Hoskyns's extensive research, based on a huge trove of contemporary sources and a great many of his own new interviews.
The biggest lesson of the endeavor may be that this important music scene depended upon a successful symbiotic relationship between artists and producers (both the studio-engineering kind and the money kind), based on a mutual feel for music and for popular taste. For every ambitious (and by all accounts obnoxious) Stephen Stills, who created the seminal Buffalo Springfield, there had to be an A&R man like Warner-Reprise's Lenny Waronker:
A native Angeleno, Waronker was ... intrigued by a new strain in the L.A. sound: a countryish, back-to-the-roots feel heard in songs by the Byrds and other groups. "My goal was very simple," he says. "It was to find a rock band that sounded like the Everly Brothers"... When [he] saw the Springfield live they were wearing cowboy hats, with Neil Young positioned to one side in a fringed Comanche shirt. He went berserk: "I thought, 'Oh, my God, this is it!'"
"For the new back-to-the-earth minstrels - chilling out in split-level cabins with their cats and patched-denim jeans, penning soul-searching songs about themselves and each other - living in Bel Air and driving a Rolls-Royce simply wasn't hip," Hoskyns explains. Instead they congregated in woodsy Laurel Canyon, where Joni Mitchell and soon-to-be-legendary manager Elliot Roberts arrived in early 1968 "from New York, where the Greenwich Village folk scene was petering out before their very eyes."