A little bit of courage is all we lack
So catch me if you can, I’m goin’ back.
Carole King, Gerry Goffin

I lived and started a career and a family 12 blocks from Laurel Canyon in the 60s and early 70s. Because I wanted to be a movie star and had auditions on both sides of the hill, I had to traverse the mythic canyon several times a week. But being in pursuit of fame and gold, I paid scant attention to what was really going on up in those coyote populated hills. We heard the legends about gunshots and screams, midnight songs and police sirens. This was Hollywood. This was the canyon.

It would be a year or two before I saw Jim Morrison walk across Sunset Boulevard atop cars, like rocks in a river, and expose himself on the Stage of the Whiskey. But as the old meme goes, “If you remember the 60s, you weren’t in them.” But then I watched “Echo in the Canyon.” Now, I do remember. I had forgotten, but now I’m back.

So, when I was assigned this week to review this new nostalgic trip, this superb, revelatory documentary “Echo In the Canyon,” I had to move fast and do some deep remembering.

“Echo in the Canyon,” directed by Andrew Slater, opening June 28 at Waterville’s Railroad Square Cinema, is a talk and musical album bouncing back from the sensual Peter Max-colored 60s and 70s.

In “Echo,” Buffalo Springfield comes alive again, the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas emerge from the sweet fog of yesterday, and there is talk about Joni Mitchell and Carole King, but annoyingly, little of their music. They were all there, like images and sound bits torn out of the past, but Slater and producer Jakob Dylan of “the Wallflowers” and son of the legendary Bob decided, wisely I suppose, not to present us with one of those MPR hours playing short cuts of the “Golden Oldies,” hosted by a slowly decaying rocker. Gratefully, it isn’t. It is so much more.

Jakob Dylan, a better singer than his father, plays priest and historian to all of those Laurel Canyon survivors, sitting with them in their homes, standing in their gardens, as they open up to him with all the secrets and stories about the legendary canyon where Boris Karloff and Tom Mix lived, and Frank Zappa with his pool full of ducks and naked girls floating on plastic rafts.

Then Jakob and Fiona Apple take us to the Orpheum in Hollywood, full of blue and magenta lights, and together, ride into “It Won’t Be Wrong” by the Byrds. The audience sits up mesmerized. Then they blend into Brian Wilson’s “ In My Room,” and I’m really back.

These were the Transatlantic kids, The Byrds and Beatles, meeting each other, sharing music and drugs and making new music and becoming legends.

We’re suddenly in Wilson’s first living room, the floor covered with beach sand and furnished with only a Steinway piano. The late Tom Petty (who sadly died of an accidental overdose in 2017) leans into the camera saying, “ I can’t see anything in Mozart that’s better than Brian Wilson.”

I’m there with them wishing all the girls could be California girls like my two daughters who grew up. And then I was back.

I confess to be a tad disappointed that Carole King and Joni Mitchell, especially Mitchell, weren’t given enough space and voice along with the Eagles, Neil Young and Jim Morrison. There is a lot of talk, a lot of repetition. These are survivors, you must remember, of a once great psychedelic river called the “60s,” that flowed down that canyon into all of our young lives.

The great David Crosby is there up in his hills now, fat and funny, wearing suspenders and belt and a crazy knit cap, as the comedy relief, confessing to have been “too much of a jerk.” You have to listen to him. He has some strong opinions.

It’s all there with something for everyone and worth the trip back. Caution: It really does take a bit of courage.

J.P.  Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.

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