Artists in 1974 flowered Laurel Canyon with the spirit of cultural innovation, perfectly detailed by Ronald Brownstein in his new, must-read book, Rock Me on the Water: 1974-The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics.

Combining the multi-media worlds of show business, Brownstein, a political correspondent and analyst, expertly discusses the political currents in the sea of artistic output in the 1970s. Each of these forms of entertainment were created during Richard Nixon’s demise, and California Governor Jerry Brown’s rise in popularity. The 12 chapters of the book act as a calendar, each month marking a significant moment in America’s cultural history of 1974.

In Brownstein’s discussion of Hollywood, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty prove to be his main characters as he examines Chinatown and Shampoo. He also shows a stark shift happening in the film industry at this time as a younger generation of film school graduates crept into the industry dominated by old men. Elsewhere in the book, he describes how Jane Fonda transitioned from a movie star into an anti-Vietnam war activist working from a Los Angeles headquarters.

At the heart of Brownstein’s musical conversations are Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, and occasionally the Eagles. He writes of music executive David Geffen, who promised musicians an artistic “asylum,” where they could focus on their compositions, while he handled the business side of things. This led to the foundation of Asylum Records, which signed the majority of Laurel Canyon’s legendary artists. Featuring interviews with Ronstadt and Browne, the book offers insight into what it was really like to be part of Laurel Canyon’s musical community.

Brownstein argues that one of the “greatest nights in television history” was a CBS lineup in 1974: All in The Family, M*A*S*H*, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and The Carol Burnett Show. He shows how the writers and actors all confronted uncomfortable subject matters such as blatant racism, the Vietnam War and the ideas of the modern woman.

It’s easy to see why Brownstein chose to name the book after Browne’s song “Rock Me on the Water.” It weaves together the threads of collaboration, creativity and politics that run throughout the book into a paisley-printed, patchouli-scented tapestry. Browne gave Ronstadt his blessing to include the song on her album. Her backing band was none other than Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Randy Meisner, and Bernie Leadon - otherwise known as the Eagles. Browne’s own version of the song features David Crosby’s harmonies and the percussion stylings of legendary session musician, Russ Kunkel.

Just as Browne sings of each natural element in “Rock Me on the Water,” Brownstein’s new book showcases the cultural elements of Los Angeles in 1974: movies, music, television, and politics.

 

2019 Classic Rock Books: The Year in Review