BY REV. KEITH A. GORDON
British-born rock writer Barney Hoskyns’ Waiting For The Sun is sub-titled
“A Rock ‘N’ Roll History of Los Angeles,” an ambitious conceit to be
sure. Hoskyns does an admirable job of wrapping up 40+ years of L.A. music in nine neat
chapters, however, condensing the complex and often-controversial music that
has come from the City of the Angels into an insightful and entertaining tome.
Hoskyns’ begins Waiting
For The Sun with the thriving L.A.
jazz and R&B scenes of the 1940s and ’50s, mostly as a way of setting the
stage for the rock ‘n’ roll fairy tales to come. In laying out the drugs,
decadence and artistic innovation that burned out its favorite sons every bit
as fast as the city’s late-‘60s rock scene, Hoskyns creates a brilliant
parallel that foreshadows the debauchery of the 1980s hair metal revolution.
Waiting For The Sun hits its stride with the burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll scene of the late-50s that
launched stars like Rick Nelson and Sam Cooke into the pop stratosphere. By
including the founding of Burbank’s powerful Warner Brothers, and independent
labels thriving with the growing popularity of rock music, the book details the
development of game-changing producers, managers, and characters like Kim
Fowley, Phil Spector, Sonny Bono, and Lou Adler that could only have come from
The meat of the book, though, may well be in Hoskyns’
detailed overview of the creative decade 1964-1974, which saw the rise and fall
of the Beach Boys and the trials and tribulations of future hall of famers like
the Byrds, the Doors, and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Hoskyns’
positions Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys as the epitome of L.A.’s
“sun and surf” culture, peeling back the thin veneer to reveal the
city’s inherent racism, as well as Wilson’s
tragic descent into mental illness. His recounting of the Byrds, threaded
throughout several chapters, outlines the creative tensions that made the band
great, but also broke them apart.
By the mid-70s, the success of the L.A. rock scene had brought wealth and fame
for businessmen and artists alike, and folks like David Crosby, Joni Mitchell,
Randy Newman, and the members of the Mamas & the Papas all handled their
newfound status differently. As the sound of the city further evolved into the
singer-songwriter trend of the ’70s, artists like Jackson Browne and Warren
Zevon had their chance to grab the brass ring, while the calculated – and
extremely successful – commercial country-rock sound of the Eagles enabled them
to walk off with a treasure worthy of Midas.
Hoskyns ends the book with the heady decade of the ’80s,
documenting the rise and subsequent commercial failure of the Sunset Strip
scene that yielded mopes like Poison, Motley Crue, and Ratt, the era peaking,
perhaps, with the incredibly over-the-top success of Guns ‘n’ Roses. As the
fast-moving hair metal scene was laid to rest by the ascendance of Seattle’s
grunge scene in the early-‘90s, Hoskyns paints a disturbing portrait of diehard
sleaze-rockers roaming the strip, mere shadows of their influences, trying in
vain to grab a record deal in the face of changing musical trends.
For The Sun‘s history of L.A.
music ends at the dawn of the ’90s, and although the book was originally
published in 1996, the only addition Hoskyns made to this new addition was a
postscript on Beck taken from a previously-published article on the artist. I
would have liked to see a chapter on L.A.’s
success over the last decade.
There are also a number of factual inaccuracies that should
never have made their way into Waiting
For The Sun, easily-verifiable statements such as Hoskyns’ reference to
Jimi Hendrix being stationed in San Pedro, California while serving in the Air
Force when, in reality, Hendrix served in the Army and was stationed at the
time in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Still, the true charm in Waiting
For The Sun is in Hoskyns’ uncanny ability to capture the charisma and
personality of the artists and businessmen that helped put Los Angeles on the musical map. The history
of rock ‘n’ roll in L.A.
is peopled with madmen, junkies, egotists, fringe-dwellers and musical
geniuses, and Waiting For The Sun is
their story. Recommended….