Echo in the Canyon
by George Wolf
For a musician and a record executive, it was the look of an old movie that led them down a path toward becoming documentarians.
The movie was 1969’s Model Shop, and to Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers, son of Bob) and Andrew Slater (former president of Columbia Records), that film “looked like a Beach Boys record.”
Inspiration took root, with Echo in the Canyon standing as the sweet fruit of their efforts to research and honor the music that defined the film’s setting: L.A.’s Laurel Canyon in the late 1960s.
With Slater directing and Dylan serving as producer and on screen guide, Echo digs deep into a fertile musical catalog. Mixing interviews and performances—both new and archival—the film effectively bridges the gap between those who created the music and those who continue to be inspired by it.
And, oh, the stories are priceless.
From Tom Petty (shown in one of his final interviews) winning his copy of Pet Sounds from a radio contest, to Dylan’s influence (“You’ll have to be more specific,” Jakob deadpans), to Neil Young wanting to take on some cops (“he’s Canadian!”) the tales keep coming, nearly all of them captivating.
And, of course, so is the music.
Classics from the Byrds, Beatles, Beach Boys, Mamas and the Papas and more are explored from their beginnings, and then reborn. From the studio to the stage, Jakob and assorted guest stars (Fiona Apple, Beck, Cat Power) give the songs new coats of paint, and while this approach casts vanity project shadows on Dylan the younger, the motivations always seem properly reverential.
At 82 minutes, the film does seem like it closes the curtain a bit early, but it gets the point across. By the time Graham Nash gives a near tearful declaration that Laurel Canyon in the 60s will one day stand with Paris in the 30s as a watershed of collaborative art, you’re not apt to argue.