Echo in the Canyon
two and a half out of four stars
What begins as an interesting if not terribly deep retrospective of the California-based folk rock wave of the late ’60s transgresses into a half-hearted vanity project for co-producer/interviewer Jakob Dylan. A man with a modicum of talent and even less personality, Jakob is far too “hipster” and would likely never get this gig — let alone a record contract — if he wasn’t the son of Bob Dylan.
Children of famous people who seek similar careers exist on a knife’s edge, and most of them — in particular those with successful artsy/creative parents — never achieve the same level of notoriety or fortune. For every Michael Douglas, Jeff Bridges, Jane Fonda or Lon Chaney, Jr. you have 100 of Colin Hanks, Julian (and Sean) Lennon, Carnie (and Wendy) Wilson, Kyle Eastwood, Jaden Smith, Kate Hudson, Jade Jagger, Rumer Willis, Lisa Marie Presley, Liv Tyler and — Jakob Dylan.
Because of the enormous influence the elder Dylan had on most of the people the younger Dylan interviews here, the majority of the subjects have a look of mild disdain on their faces that collectively scream “I’m only talking to you because your dad is the Godfather. You know that, right?” At one point David Crosby recalls when the Byrds first met Bob and referred to him simply as “Dylan” and is immediately corrected by Jakob, reminding him there are two Dylans. Crosby pauses for a millisecond and continues as if he never heard Jakob’s pathetic admonishment.
Crosby’s off-and-on bandmates Graham Nash and Stephen Stills toss in their two cents and it’s clear all of them are (as they should be) envious of Neil Young — who only shows up during the closing credits playing guitar on a song jointly credited to him and Jakob. Michelle Phillips — the only surviving member of the Mamas and the Papas — mostly ignores Jakob’s questions and instead recounts the many famous men she bedded and the songs her ex-husband John wrote as protests for her dalliances.
Not really part of the Laurel Canyon scene at the time — at least as a performer — Jackson Browne is uncharacteristically animated as he underscores the start of the folk rock movement. And it wasn’t because of the elder Dylan, Pete Seeger or Joan Baez but rather the Beach Boys and the Beatles.
Early on in the film Tom Petty (in his last interview) and shortly thereafter Crosby’s fellow Byrd band member Roger McGuinn point out the importance of the Rickenbacker 12-string guitar to the sound of countless singles cranked out in a three-year stretch (1966-1968). McGuinn mentions hearing George Harrison’s use of the instrument on “If I Needed Someone,” a relatively obscure Beatles song written by Harrison that gave McGuinn the inspiration to take basic folk songs (think Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!”) and jolt them with “jangly Beatles guitars.”
The movie reaches its zenith when the normally reserved Brian Wilson opens up and reveals what many people have suspected for well over a half-century: the Beatles were Wilson’s favorite band. After hearing “Rubber Soul” (which contained “If I Needed Someone”), Wilson stated he had to come up with something just as good if not better, and the result was “Pet Sounds” — an album considered by most to be the Beach Boys’ finest masterpiece.
In previous interviews, Paul McCartney (not interviewed in this film, but the subject of several anecdotes) said it was “Pet Sounds” (and the Frank Zappa/Mothers’ debut “Freak Out”) that was the inspiration behind “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Capitol Records distributed both the Beach Boys and the Beatles records in the U.S. and — in a truly lame marketing move — fostered the idea that the two groups hated each other when the exact opposite was true.
“Echo in the Canyon” co-producer/director Andrew Slater (ironically a former CEO of Capitol) appears on screen at one point and explains the idea for the film came about after a concert he and the younger Dylan produced in 2015. At the show, Jakob, Fiona Apple, Cat Power and Beck perform cover versions of the songs heard and discussed by the original artists and not a single one of them is worth inclusion. While all four of these singers can easily carry a tune, their voices don’t mesh or complement each other much and each attempt at harmony ends in catastrophe.
At a scant 82 minutes, “Echo in the Canyon” barely registers as a feature. And if you remove the concert footage and the 15 or so minutes spent analyzing the 1969 Jacques Demy movie “Model Shop” starring Gary Lockwood (the only connection to “Echo” is its Laurel Canyon setting) you’re left with a pretty good episode of the VH1 “Behind the Music” series. People not showing up or even discussed in this movie include other residents at the time Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, Carole King, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork (of the Monkees) and Frank Zappa.
Someone needs to let Jakob Dylan know his 15 minutes are officially up.