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BOOK REVIEW: "Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon" by Dave McGowan

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BOOK REVIEW: Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon: Laurel Canyon, Covert Ops & The Dark Heart of the Hippie Dream by Dave McGowan (Headpress) 2014

Back in the summer of 2008, a few weeks after writing a 40th anniversary review of the psychedelic cult film Head, featuring The Monkees, I got a weird email from a reader who suggested I check out a website by a guy named Dave McGowan and his recently-launched online investigative series Inside the LC: The Strange But Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation.

Naturally curious, I checked it out and fell into the proverbial “rabbit hole” from which I have yet to return. McGowan’s research on the rock music scene that artificially “sprang” from the countercultural Los Angeles-area enclave of Laurel Canyon was absolutely shocking.

“The story of the scene that played out in Laurel Canyon from the mid-1960’s through the end of the 1970’s is an endlessly fascinating one” and that while most folks know about San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury scene, Angelenos, of which McGowan is one, “remain ignorant of the even larger music and counterculture scene that played out in the Hollywood Hills.”

And a 2008 radio interview I conducted with McGowan on a local pirate radio station proved even more revealing for me. Rock stars like Frank Zappa, John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, Arthur Lee of Love, Jim Morrison of The Doors, Peter Tork of The Monkees, David Crosby (The Byrds) and Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield), who collaborated with Crosby, Stills & Nash and many others get a serious look. So do the actors and directors who hung out and lived and partied in Laurel Canyon – a place that also happened to be home to the military’s Lookout Mountain Laboratories, a place that was a studio that created classified motion pictures involving atomic-bomb tests and – likely much more - between 1947 and 1969.

While that may not seem so unusual in the midst of the Cold War, many of the names above were linked or directly involved in the military, through family members or personally.

As McGowan notes: “How is it possible that not one of the musical icons of the Woodstock generation, almost all of them draft age males, was shipped off to slog through the rice paddies of Vietnam? Should we just consider that to be another of those great serendipities? Was it mere luck that kept all of the Laurel Canyon stars out of jail and out of the military during the turbulent decade that was the 1960’s? Not really.”

McGowan suggests that these Sixties-era megastars weren’t touched by “The Establishment” because they proved to be useful tools in their efforts to water-down or co-opt any efforts of a truly grassroots movement that could have emerged and brought real change and an earlier end to the meat grinder in Southeast Asia. Perceived anti-war anthem "For What It's Worth" takes on a whole different meaning - figuratively and literally.

McGowan notes how so few of the Laurel Canyon artists really demanded an end to the war, killing so many of their peers. Jim Morrison? ‘Fraid not. Mr. Mojo Risin’s dad, U.S. Navy Admiral George Stephen Morrison was the man in charge of the naval ship, the U.S.S. Bon Homme Richard, which was involved in the very Gulf of Tonkin incident that led to escalation of the Vietnam War. In fact, McGowan includes a photo of a clean-cut Jim Morrison on the bridge of the infamous ship with his dad in early 1964. Just a few years later he would be asking the world to ‘break on through to the other side” and to “light his fire.” All the while, he largely ignored the politics of the day and had seemingly no musical training or interest. How convenient.

And while Peter Tork, for instance, worked the coffeehouse folk scene in Greenwich Village and was friends with folkie Stephen “The Sarge” Stills, a guy who boasted he had spent time in Vietnam, likely before troops were sent there in the mid-1960’s.

And Tork? What was he allegedly doing before landing a gig as a doltish, bass-playing Monkee on the hit NBC TV series in 1966?

Tork, writes McGowan, “’migrated to Connecticut then Venezuela,’ which was, I suppose, a typical migratory route for folkies in those days.”

I looked into this and sure enough, Tork (then known as Peter Thorkelson) was in South America for a month or so, allegedly visiting family. But was he really? Or was he on some sort of “secret mission” as his pal Stills has implied in the past? Oddly, I have found no official biographical book on Tork and he is decidedly the most mysterious Monkee of the quartet.

And while the mid-20th century spawned many creative people who came from military-linked families, primarily due to the World Wars and the ongoing Cold War, it is strange to see how many of these Laurel Canyon musicians (Zappa, Stills, Phillips and others) and actors (Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda and others) directly descended not only from military families from the East Coast but in some cases from elite families who first settled early America and/or were involved in secret societies.

And sure, we’ve heard rumors about Charles Manson and his songwriting abilities. All true. And members of the Beach Boys (primarily surfer/drummer Dennis Wilson) were among Charlie’s besties. This Wilson brother would die under mysterious circumstances as well, dying while swimming in 1983. Indeed, the canyon has some dark and winding roads – many of them leading to mysterious “suicides.”

… or possible human sacrifices to the Dark Lord. McGowan, in his chapters “Vito and His Freakers: The Sinister Roots of Hippie Culture” and “The Death of Godo Paulekas: Anger’s Infant Lucifer,” we are introduced to debauched guru and self-described “Freak” Vito Paulekas, along with his wife Szou and his disturbing companion Carl Franzoni. These guys helped get The Byrds (a largely untested, musically-limited band which was as much or more of a manufactured act than the derided Monkees, at least in the early years) off the ground by doing spasmodic, freakish dance moves on the dance floors of clubs that sprouted overnight on the Sunset Strip. That freewheelin' behavior cloaked something far more ominous.

Paulekas shows up in the underground film Mondo Hollywood and likely had allowed Satanist and suspected snuff-film creator Kenneth Anger to feature the three-year old Godo as his “Lucifer” in a film he was working on. It is then that Mansonite and former Grass Roots (a different “Grass Roots,” later renamed Love) guitarist Bobby "Cupid" Beausoleil becomes the Luciferian replacement.

“Calling themselves Freaks, they lived a semi-communal life and engaged in sex orgies and free-form dancing whenever they could," writes McGowan, describing Vito and the Freakers.

And when Vito split, Manson happened to show up in his place, because, as McGowan writes, “It makes perfect sense, in retrospect, that Charles Manson and his Family came calling just as Vito fled the scene, and that a Mansonite replaced the freak child (doomed Godo Paulekas, said to have died after falling through a skylight while tripping on acid) as the embodiment of Lucifer. For the truth, you see, is that in many significant ways, Charles Manson was little more than a younger version of Vito Paulekas.”

Hollywood being Hollywood, is it really all that much of a surprise that all the signs point to the Laurel Canyon “peace and love” folk-rock and singer-songwriter scene was likely entirely manufactured?  We know drugs were rampant, occult activity commonplace and a bloody trail of corpses that shocks to the core.

Chapters on The Byrds’ troubled Gene Clark and (later) Gram Parsons, along with iron-fisted tyrants like Frank Zappa, Stephen Stills, Arthur Lee and Captain Beefheart; and sex maniacs (and likely incestuous pedophiles) including various Beach Boys and “Papa” John Phillips, all seem to point to something much more hidden and sinister going on in Laurel Canyon. After all, these perceived peaceful hippies had a rather violent, authoritarian streak about them - quite counter to the image one usually conjures when imagining the happy vibes emanating from the Mamas and the Papas as they perform "California Dreamin'" on a TV variety show.

Even the death-obsessed and positively evil Process Church of the Final Judgment played a role in Laurel Canyon and surrounding areas. Just ask one-time cape-wearing David Crosby or any number of lesser-known “musicians” who came even later. For all the ocean breezes, bikini babes and daisies and so forth, the ever-present Southern California sunshine couldn’t possibly pierce the darkness hanging over Laurel Canyon.

Later chapters touch upon New Wave and punk music’s Copeland brothers (which includes Police drummer Stewart Copeland) and the family’s connection with intelligence agencies and another (inexplicably, perhaps) going into illusionist Harry Houdini’s possible link to the early days of Laurel Canyon.

Sure, there could be a lot of coincidences (the writer of The Association's '66 cult-and-drug-flavored hit "Along Comes Mary," Tandyn Almer, just so happens to split L.A. and die in the spooky D.C. suburb of McLean, Virginia, where Morrison, John Phillips, Mama Cass Elliot, Peter Tork and others hung out in their early years), with all these covert ops, serial killers running around and funding that seems to come from nowhere. After all, who paid for all of this for so many years?

McGowan, I should note, is a very personable writer with a breezy and even humorous writing style. I would be giving Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon an excellent rating if it were not for a few editing and spelling errors. I did like the inclusion of a foreward from conspiracy writer Nick Bryant (The Franklin Scandal) and his comments on this book having a healthy sprinkling of the "military/intelligence complex."

And McGowan puts you there in the canyon. I only wish all the photographs he used in his online series, featured at The Center for an Informed America, were here as well. While I was quite familiar with McGowan's wide body of conspiracy research and I had already read a lot of this Laurel Canyon information before, reading it again – and some new nuggets – was well worth it, particularly as I continue my research on my book focusing on the rock music created and/or released in 1966.

To learn more - and I mean more - go to www.davesweb.cnchost.com. And like me, you'll tumble into a rabbit hole from which you will likely never return.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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