Inside The LC: The Strange but Mostly True Story of Laurel Canyon and the Birth of the Hippie Generation
July 24, 2008
“No one here gets out alive”
My apologies to readers for the long delay in getting this post up. These past several weeks have not been easy ones for your fearless host. Things started going south near the end of June, when our beloved family cat was taken ill and died upon arrival at the local vet’s office. To many readers, this may seem a rather insignificant loss, but I have to say, in all honesty, that Thomas just may have been the coolest cat to ever prowl the streets of Los Angeles. His presence in our home is surely missed.
Not too long after Thomas’ passing, my computer became quite ill as well. At first, it looked as though there was little hope of saving her. My tech buddy had all but pronounced her DOA when he unexpectedly detected a faint spark of life and a will to live. She could be saved, he proclaimed, but it would take some time and money. Given her advanced age (2 in human years, which is about 137 in computer years), he suggested I might be better off buying a new model. But then, of course, I would find myself face-to-face with the dreaded abomination known as Windows Vista. Also, I didn’t really need the headache and tedium of setting up a new machine, transferring everything over, etc.
So I decided to wait it out, and for several days I found myself completely lost in the world. My computer and my cat, you see, were my two very best non-human friends. They were also, more importantly, my research assistants. I am a night-owl by nature and it is in the wee hours of the morning, when the wife and kids are fast asleep, that I create literary masterpieces (like the one you are reading right now). My two trusted and loyal companions in those endeavors have long been my computer and my cat. And now they were both gone. Fuck.
The computer ultimately made a full recovery and returned home ready for action. Thomas, unfortunately, would not be coming back, so we would have to soldier on without him. But then, alas, came news of a far greater tragedy: a friend of 20+ years had succumbed to injuries sustained in a rock-climbing accident near his home in Superior, Colorado. Just 47 years old and an avid outdoorsman, rock climber, mountain biker and hockey player, he leaves behind that which he cherished most in his life – three young kids, the oldest of whom is just 14. He was a good man and a good friend who touched many lives during his relatively short stay here on planet Earth, and he will not soon be forgotten.
It is, therefore, with a heavy heart that I return now to my position as self-appointed Laurel Canyon tour guide.
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Sometimes pieces of the puzzle just seem to fall from the heavens. I don’t really know why that happens – and to be honest, I find it somewhat disconcerting at times. On Sunday, July 6, the venerable Washington Post, in a most timely manner, generously provided a new piece of the puzzle that even I, your jaded host, find rather remarkable. It seems that a former reporter and novelist by the name of Alex Abella “has written a history of RAND, which was founded more than 60 years ago by the Air Force as a font of ideas on how that service might fight and win a nuclear war with the USSR … Abella focuses on Albert Wohlstetter, a mathematical logician turned nuclear strategist who was the dominant figure at Rand starting in the early 1950s and whose influence has extended beyond his death in 1997 into the current Bush administration … Wohlstetter epitomized what became known as the ‘RAND approach’ -- a relentlessly reductive, determinedly quantitative analysis of whatever problem the independent, non-profit think tank was assigned, whether the design of a new bomber or improving public education in inner-city schools.”
Let me interrupt here for just a brief moment to note that the RAND corporation is a lot of things, but “independent” has never been one of them. Anyway, getting back to the Post’s timely book review, we find that “it was not so much Wohlstetter himself as his acolytes … who had a major impact in Washington.” Most of those acolytes need no introduction, as the names should be instantly recognizable to just about everyone: Richard Perle (who once dated Wohlstetter’s daughter), Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Andrew Marshall (“formerly a RAND economist, who, as promoter of the high-tech ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ in Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Department, was dubbed the Pentagon’s ‘Yoda.’”)
In the latter half of the 1950s and the early 1960s, while Wohlstetter was with the RAND corporation and also a professor at UCLA (and while his wife Roberta also worked as an analyst for RAND), Albert and his followers – the men who now serve as the apparent architects of US foreign policy – regularly met in a heavily wooded neighborhood in Los Angeles known as … actually, I think I’m going to defer back to the Washington Post’s book review and let journalist Gregg Herken tell you how “those bright, eager and ambitious young men … had sat cross-legged on the floor with their mentor at his stylish house in (drum roll, please!) Laurel Canyon.”
The title of the Post’s book review is “Dr. Strangelove’s Workplace,” which presumably is a reference to the notorious RAND corporation. But I think that we can all agree that the title could just as easily apply to Wohlstetter’s stylish Laurel Canyon home. In fact, as the pieces of this puzzle continue to fall into place, it is beginning to seem as though “Dr. Strangelove’s Workplace” might be a good title for the entire damn canyon. We now know that, in addition to hosting both a secret military/intelligence facility and a call-boy/kiddy-porn operation servicing prominent public figures, Laurel Canyon was also the birthplace and meeting place of what we now know as the ‘neocon’/PNAC crowd, as well as the home base of the guiding light of the Rand corporation.
Thus far in our journey, we have encountered Masons, the FBI, the OSS, the CIA, the secret society known as Skull and Bones, the Rothschild family, military intelligence of every conceivable stripe, the OTO, the RAND corporation, the ‘neocon’ cabal, and just about every other nefarious group that regularly pops up in the ‘conspiracy’ literature – with one very obvious exception: we have not yet met up with any member of the legendary Rockefeller clan. Luckily though, we’re about to remedy that oversight.
This next contribution comes from deep within the archives of Time magazine, from an article entitled “The Bride Wore Pink,” published six decades ago on February 23, 1948: “One morning last week, bespectacled Bryant Bowden, editor of the weekly Okeechobee (Fla.) News, sauntered into the Okeechobee courthouse and stopped to eye the bulletin board in the main hall. Among the marriage-license applications, which, by Florida law, must be publicly posted for three days before a ceremony, he saw something which made him goggle. Winthrop Rockefeller, 35, of New York – the fourth of John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s five sons and one of the most eligible bachelors in the world – had stated his intention of marrying one Eva Sears, also of New York.”
“Editor Bowden had a bitter moment – his paper would not be published for two days. Then he remembered that he was the Okeechobee correspondent for the Associated Press. He telephoned the AP office in Jacksonville. A few hours later, the whole U.S. journalistic horizon glowed a bright pink with the fireworks he had touched off.”
“While the first headlines blazed (and while Manhattan gossip columnists scrambled to assure their readers that they had known all about the romance for months), herds of reporters were dispatched to find an answer to the question: Who is Eva Sears? Hearst’s Cholly Knickerbocker (Ghighi Cassini) haughtily announced that she was Mrs. Barbara Paul Sears of the fine old Philadelphia Pauls and thus a society girl of impeccable pedigree. He was wrong.”
Indeed he was. So who was this mystery woman – this woman who had once had a brief career in Hollywood before moving to Paris and taking a job as a secretary at the U.S. embassy? She appears to have gone by many names at different times in her life, including Eva Paul, Eva Paul Sears, Barbara Paul, Barbara Paul Sears, and “Bobo” Rockefeller. None of them, however, was the name she was given at the time of her birth. As Time magazine noted so many years ago, “Her parents were Lithuanian immigrants and she was born Jievute Paulekiute in a coal patch near Noblestown, Pa.” Even that, however, was not her real name – at least not by American custom and tradition.
In her parents’ homeland, I am told, “Paulekiute” is the feminine version of a surname we have previously encountered: “Paulekas,” which was her parents’ surname. Eva Paul’s father, as it turns out, just happened to be the brother of Vito Paulekas’ father (a fact verified by – and brought to my attention by – a member of the Paulekas family.) I’m no genealogist, but I’m pretty sure that that means that the self-styled "King of the Hippies" was a first cousin of "Bobo" Rockefeller, and a cousin-in-law (or something like that) of Winthrop Rockefeller himself. Vito was also a cousin of the couple’s only child, Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, who would later serve as the Lieutenant Governor of the state of Arkansas.
The Paulekas family, alas, missed the couple’s day of celebration. According to Time, “Bobo’s mother and stepfather … were unable to attend the ceremony because they were making a batch of Lithuanian cheese on their Indiana farm.” I guess we all have our priorities. Truth be told though, the Paulekas clan has a somewhat different explanation: they were deliberately excluded from the ceremony as it was felt they were a bit too uncultured to break bread with the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the Marquess of Blandford.
We will be revisiting Vito Paulekas in an upcoming edition, to review other new information that has come my way. For now, we will just note that we can add the Rockefellers to the list of folks connected to the Laurel Canyon scene. And that, of course, made Laurel Canyon the ideal place for all the rock musicians and hippies and flower children to hang out in the 1960s and 1970s, even with the stench from all the dead bodies that kept piling up. Speaking of which, let’s check in and see what names have been added to the Laurel Canyon Death List since we last took a peek.
The first new name I see is Mr. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, who purportedly drowned without assistance in his home swimming pool on July 3, 1969, at the age of 27 (Jim Morrison would allegedly die precisely two years later, also at the age of 27). Just three days after Jones’ tragic death, the Stones, with the Hells Angels providing security, played a previously-scheduled concert in Hyde Park, footage of which appears in Kenneth Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother. Despite his (disputed) claims of being the founder of the Stones, Jones had been unceremoniously dumped by the group on June 9, less than a month before his death. He was replaced just four days later by Mick Taylor (who would later leave the group and be replaced by Ron Wood). It would later be claimed that Jones was booted from the band due to his grossly inflated ego and his chronic substance abuse problems.
Jagger was the first musical superstar tapped by Anger to compose a soundtrack for his Lucifer Rising project, which at the time was to star Mansonite Bobby Beausoleil (who had, as we all remember, replaced Godo Paulekas). Anger would later solicit a soundtrack for the long-delayed film project from Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, the proud owner of one of the world’s largest collections of Aleister Crowley memorabilia, including Crowley’s notorious Boleskine estate on the shores of Scotland’s Loch Ness. When ultimately released, however, the film featured a soundtrack by neither Jagger nor Page, but rather one that was composed, recorded and arranged inside a prison cell by convicted murderer Bobby Beausoleil. The pre-prison footage that Anger had shot of Beausoleil, meanwhile, ended up in a different film: the aforementioned Invocation of My Demon Brother. Starring in Lucifer Rising, as Osiris, was Performance writer and co-director Donald Seaton Cammell.
Donald Cammell was the son of Charles Richard Cammell, who happened to be a close friend and biographer of notorious occultist and British intelligence asset Aleister Crowley. Donald himself was the godson of the Great Beast. Cammell’s decidedly Crowleyian film was originally to star his good friend Marlon Brando, but the role ultimately went to actor James Fox. Brando and Cammell, by the way, once wrote a novel together – a novel so horrifyingly bad that I dare not mention its title here for fear that some of you may purchase it out of curiosity and then blame me for any trauma you endure while attempting to actually read it.
Speaking of Brando, by the way, have I mentioned yet the curious string of deaths that began eighteen years ago, on May 16, 1990, when Marlon’s son Christian gunned down Dag Drollet, the father of his sister Cheyenne’s unborn child, in Marlon’s Laurel Canyon-adjacent home? Though convicted, Christian got off with a rather light sentence, thanks primarily to Marlon having had his own daughter, the prosecution’s potential star witness, locked away in a mental institution in Tahiti, safe from subpoena. A few years later, on April 14, 1995, 25-year-old Cheyenne was found swinging from the end of a rope, her death unsurprisingly ruled a suicide. The next year, Christian Brando was released from prison and promptly became involved with a woman by the name of Bonnie Lee Bakley, who caught a bullet to the head on May 4, 2001 while in the company of new hubby Robert Blake (her tenth husband). Marlon dropped dead next, on July 1, 2004 (though his death wasn’t particularly suspicious, given that he was getting on in years). His home was promptly purchased by good friend and neighbor Jack Nicholson, who immediately announced plans to bulldoze it, declaring the structure to be decrepit. He never did though explain why a man wealthy enough to own his own chain of Polynesian islands was purportedly living in a derelict abode. A few years later, on January 26 of 2008, Christian Brando dropped dead at the relatively young age of 49.
Returning now, after that brief digression, to our discussion of Donald Cammell’s Performance, we find that Mick Jagger was cast to play the role of ‘Turner,’ a debauched rock star (which, obviously, was a real stretch for Mick). Fox played ‘Chas,’ a violent organized-crime figure. He was trained for the role by David Litvinoff, a real-life crime figure and associate of the notoriously sadistic Kray brothers. Litvinoff reportedly sent Fox to the south of London for a couple of months to hang out with his gangster buddies; when he returned, according to various accounts, Fox had literally become the violent character he portrayed in the film.
Recruited to create the film’s soundtrack was Bernard Alfred “Jack” Nitzsche, an occultist and the son of a supposed ‘medium.’ Nitzsche, along with Sonny Bono, had begun his music career as a lieutenant for gun-brandishing producer Phil Spector (Nitzsche was one of the architects of Spector’s famed “wall of sound”). Nitzsche was also a familiar presence on the Laurel Canyon scene, collaborating with such noted bands and artists as Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young, Crazy Horse, Randy Newman, Michelle Phillips, The Turtles, Captain Beefheart and Carole King. Nitzsche also worked with several of the people we will be adding today to the Laurel Canyon Death List, including David Blue, Ricky Nelson and Sonny Bono. And one guy who was already added to the list: Tim Buckley.
Nitzsche’s Performance soundtrack was composed, according to author Michael Walker, “in a witch’s cottage in the canyon” (I’m not exactly sure what a “witch’s cottage” is, but it’s nice to know that Laurel Canyon had one). One of the musicians hired by Nitzsche to play on that soundtrack was Lowell George, who we will also be adding to the Laurel Canyon Death List. For now, let’s add Donald Cammell to the list, since on April 24, 1996, he became yet another of the characters in this story to catch a bullet to the head (need I add here that the wound was reportedly self-inflicted?) Nitzsche died five years later of a heart attack, on August 25, 2000. A few years earlier, he had made an appearance on primetime television – as a gun-brandishing drunkard arrested on the streets of Hollywood on Cops.
Before moving on, there is one other thing I need to mention about Cammell’s film: John Phillips once stated that Performance was about estranging one’s self from society in order to create a new, better social order. “With really intelligent people,” according to Phillips, “it’s almost a matter of inbreeding at this point.” I don’t know about all of you readers out there, but when I first stumbled upon that quote, it suddenly dawned on me that one element that was previously missing from this story was a pro-eugenics comment from one of our flower-power icons, so I’m glad that we were able to squeeze that in.
Since we now seem to have segued onto the topic of John Phillips, let’s go ahead and add his good friend Steve Brandt to the Death List. Brandt, who was also a close friend of the victims at 10050 Cielo Drive, allegedly overdosed on barbiturates in late November of 1969, some three-and-a-half months after the Manson murders. In the days and weeks following those murders, Brandt had placed numerous phone calls to the LAPD. Those calls became increasingly frantic in nature, and Brandt became increasingly fearful that his own life might be in jeopardy. He soon decided to put some distance between himself and LA, so he headed for New York City. On the night of his death, according to Phillips’ autobiography, Brandt attended a Rolling Stones concert at Madison Square Gardens, where he attempted to run on stage but was repelled and beaten by a security guard. He then went home and, according to official mythology, overdosed.
It seems obvious that if someone had information that desperately needed to be made public, and if it was the kind of information that authorities had, say, willfully failed to act upon, and if the information was of the type that could not, needless to say, be taken to the mainstream media, and if the year was 1969 and the mass communication technology that we now take for granted did not yet exist, then grabbing the mike at a Stones concert at Madison Square Gardens might just be one of the most effective means of disseminating that information. Brandt failed in what may have been an attempt to do just that, and he turned up dead just hours later. Shit happens, I guess.
Moving on, I couldn’t help noticing that when I mentioned David Blue a few paragraphs back, a lot of you scratched your heads and asked, “David Who?” Allow me then to quickly introduce you to another of the forgotten talents of Laurel Canyon. Blue was born Stuart David Cohen on February 18, 1941; shortly thereafter, his father was deployed overseas. According to David, his dad “came hobbling home on crutches and stayed depressed all his life” (not unlike, it seems fair to say, the family situation of our old friend Phil Ochs). David and his slightly older half-sister, Suzanne, endured a hellish existence consisting of alternating periods of rages and silences. Suzanne got out first, only to end up busted for prostitution in New York City in 1963. Suzanne’s next stop, just a few months later, was at the county morgue.
David, meanwhile, had gotten out of the house as well, by dropping out of school and joining the US Navy at the age of seventeen – just as Lenny Bruce had done. Like Jimi Hendrix, Blue was purportedly booted out of the service, after which he decided to become a folk singer. His first album was released in 1966; a later effort was produced by Graham Nash, who also, as everyone surely recalls, produced a record for Judee Sill, with whom Blue had much in common (you people had better be paying attention because – I’m warning you! – there will, at some point, be a quiz on all this shit, and if you miss too many questions on that quiz, you will be locked out from further access to these articles!)
… … … … Just kidding!! I don’t even know how to set that shit up! But if I did, I would totally fucking do it! Anyway, let’s get back to our story …
Like Judee Sill, David Blue was one of the Laurel Canyon stars who never quite shone as brightly as they should have. And also like Sill, Blue was one of the first few acts signed by David Geffen’s fledgling Asylum label. Finally, as with Judee, David was long forgotten by the time of his death, on December 2, 1982, when the forty-one-year-old Blue dropped dead while jogging in New York’s Washington Square Park. The former rising star (and occasional actor) lay in the morgue for three days before anyone noticed that he was missing.
To be continued …
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One final note to readers: early on in this series, when I urged readers to pick up a copy of Programmed to Kill, I neglected to add that there is an older post on this website that you should read as well. If you haven’t done so already, or haven’t done so lately, pull up a chair and work your way through “Celluloid Heroes, Part II: The Tangled Web of Charlie Manson” at: http://www.davesweb.cnchost.com/wtc13.html.