Atlantic Senior Editor Ronald Brownstein tells the kaleidoscopic story of one monumental year that marked the city of Los Angeles’ creative peak, a glittering moment when popular culture was ahead of politics in predicting what America would become.
These are not new stories, of course — the brief window of early-1970s creative filmmaking, the Laurel Canyon music scene, the golden era of television. All have been relentlessly examined, artifacts of a once-mighty baby boomer civilization. What Brownstein has done is expertly knit the scenes together, giving the reader a plus-one invite to the heady world of Hollywood parties, jam sessions and pitch meetings, as well as a pointed demonstration of how culture can be made and unmade. By the time we approach the end of that fascinating year, it’s clear that the creative frenzy is about to come to a screeching halt ... Brownstein is at his most convincing when describing the film and TV worlds, which produced the most radical assault on mainstream culture ... It’s unfortunate that Brownstein spends so little time exploring the Black film and music worlds. They’re discussed in just one chapter, into which he also stuffs the exclusion of women in Hollywood. Brownstein’s lens is focused squarely on what white men had to say in film, television and music, making the book itself a demonstration of that same problem. Even the stories of discrimination that the successful producers Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Julia Phillips faced feel like detours off the main freeway ... Perhaps the most salient lesson of Brownstein’s engrossing book is that surely as day follows night, America devours its most provocative cultural expression and spits it back up, polished and unthreatening.
The challenge of capturing such an idyllic moment in print is intertwining so many stories while keeping each one clear and engaging. Brownstein manages this deftly. While initial chapters focus on one particular form of entertainment and center on the story of one or two artists, films or shows, later sections seamlessly blend various artistic and business endeavors along with politics. The conceit of covering 1974 month by month is the only contrivance that feels a bit forced ... More than just summarizing or reviewing what such films and shows were about, the author dives deep into how they were created, financed, promoted and received. His many interviews with actors, writers, directors and executives of that era lend such renderings veracity and energy ... Brownstein also covers music well, though many critics, particularly those with an East Coast bias, might quibble about the greatness of the three acts he profiles in the most depth ... This is a book out to capture the moment when LA became America’s pop culture crucible, briefly eclipsing New York City before punk rock brought the Big Apple roaring back to preeminence. Brownstein gives LA and the moment a gauzy glow, capturing it best in the words of those who lived there at this apex ... lets readers swim in those heady, deeply creative seas.
Mr. Brownstein makes all this cultural history memorable by telling much of his story through profiles of figures like Jack Nicholson, Norman Lear, George Lucas, Ms. Ronstadt and Mr. Browne, and the Eagles’ Don Henley and Glenn Frey ... With a book so rich in detail, it may be ungrateful to point out what isn’t there. Mr. Brownstein overlooks musicians like Harry Nilsson, Lori Lieberman and Patti Dahlstrom. There was also a lively comedy scene that was jump-started in 1972 when Johnny Carson moved The Tonight Show to Burbank and Mitzi Shore opened the Comedy Store, where a new brand of humor developed, more freewheeling and less neurotic than its East Coast counterpart.