As one of Los Angeles’ most famous bands, The Doors once said: “People are strange.” The statement would be an apt subtitle for Barney Hoskyns’ excellent history of L.A. music: Waiting For The Sun. Many “scenes” have come and gone over the years: London, San Francisco, New York, and Seattle, just to name a few. But the power base, the hub of the industry has always been Los Angeles, California.
The combination of talent (genuine or not), opportunism, endless summer, greed, cocaine, and a host of other factors come together in a truly fascinating story here. Hoskyns is a self-described “Brit-in-exile,” and with that title comes a certain (welcome) distance. In Waiting For The Sun he notices things a little more clearly than others might.
Although the full title of this book is Waiting For The Sun: A Rock ‘N’ Roll History Of Los Angeles, Hoskyns spends the first couple of chapters discussing the scene from 1940 to the early 60’s. There is a sense of loss in these early years, as the city had every opportunity to support jazz and early R&B, but lost out due to institutionalized racism. It is a theme that resounds throughout this book, at least until the rise of Ice T and NWA in the late 1980’s.
The bulk of Waiting For The Sun covers a roughly 35 year period, from 1962 to 1997. From The Beach Boys to Beck, Hoskyns includes extensive chapters on each era. Surf, psychedelic, garage, country-rock, punk, metal, and rap are all represented here by iconic bands. The actual number of truly genre defining groups in each of these (and more) categories was kind of shocking to me at first. When you stack it up, side by side, there really has been a hell of a lot of excellent music released by L.A. bands over the years.
The reason Waiting For The Sun ends in 1997 is because it is a soft cover reprint with a new introduction. The twelve years from ‘97 to the present have seen the transfer of power in the music industry (L.A.) to the Internet (worldwide). While Hoskyns touches on the changes that have unfolded in the world since his original publication, a full update would necessitate a completely different book.
Waiting For The Sun is an outstanding history of an industry’s musical legacy that is now well and truly gone. Oddly enough, I found myself agreeing with one of Hoskyns' "outsiders," Randy Newman, in his ironic song "I Love L.A."
It is a city that describes the U.S. as any other, only through a weird filter.