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Laurel Canyon Fantasy

Laurel Canyon TextL.A., mid-1960s: Like many young people, Juno has come to California in search of rock ’n’ roll and herself. Unlike anyone else she knows, though, Juno is a witch. Surrounded by beautiful, talented new friends, she soon starts using her magic powers to win love and respect. Band members are pitted against each other, fancy guitar solos play themselves, folks find that they can’t help messing up everything from romance to crowd control… But, as Juno was told on the day she came of magic age back in Canada, there is a price to pay for altering the course of things. Particularly, it turns out, for almost ruining rock ‘n’ roll. How long until everything comes crashing down around her ears?

Peace n Love Grey Back

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So she’d met another David. This one was even cockier than the one back home, despite seeming not at all drunk. They emptied the flask he had in his pocket while David told her all about his band. It had just been expanded and renamed The Beefeaters, and was now definitely gonna be as big as The Beatles, whom he still wasn’t assimilating. Time flew.

‘Wanna come to a real neat folk club with us after?’ asked David. Juno’d told him she was eighteen and a painter on an inspirational trip. She’d seen enough in the college back in Calgary to be able to spiel about art. And he was doing a lot more looking than listening anyhow.

‘Alright,’ said Juno and shrugged. She didn’t have to fake her lack of enthusiasm about the club. David was from just outside LA and therefore likely to find the local joints real neat, she reckoned. LA wasn’t exactly renowned as a hotbed of folk. But although Juno sure hadn’t planned on hanging out in another gloomy dump, she would’ve gone most places with the new David right then.

At the end of the concert the only two people who’d taken no notice of The Beatles met up with the two who’d possibly been observing most closely. Turned out the square-specced guy was called Jim. David’s other friend Gene also had the hairdo, and also was real good-looking, which seemed to be conditions for being in the band. But he was much darker than the other two, with much sharper features. Juno thought he also looked a lot more… melancholy, or something.

Jim was doing the driving. He and Gene tried to involve David in their analysis of the show. Without much success, ’cause he and Juno were in the back, analyzing each other’s eyes.

The club was called The Troubadour.

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That did it. Juno came to, and turned it on full. ‘Nectar?’ she purred, shaking her hair. ‘Jack Daniels,’ replied he. He still hadn’t twitched. ‘Thank you,’ said Juno. In one smooth movement she took the cup, knocked back its contents and held it out again while arching a flawless eyebrow in a silent demand for more.

Now he did twitch. And at last Juno gave him a smile. Her best engulfing, submerging, swamping smile. He briefly swayed on jellified legs. ‘I’m Juno,’ she said.

‘I knew you were no mere mortal,’ rasped he. ‘And I’m –– …’

‘David! Are you watching, man? This is important! This is what we gotta assimilate!’ A second guy had showed up, ’round the same age. Early twenties. This one was taller and skinnier, and had a fairer and slightly longer version of the hairdo. He wore little square shades and looked real hip, and real focussed too. He paid no attention at all to Juno.

‘’Course I am,’ said David and vaguely glanced towards the stage. He winked at Juno and moved closer to her.

‘You got any idea where Gene is?’ asked his friend.

‘Left him back at base,’ said David and pointed carelessly over his shoulder towards the rear of the theatre without taking his eyes off Juno.

‘Alright. That’s where we’ll be. Watching,’ said the guy and disappeared in the crowd.

‘Please forgive my rude friend,’ said David. ‘He gets a little excited. We’re musicians too, you see.’

As if Juno hadn’t known. She’d known it as sure as she’d been that they weren’t warlocks and as The Beatles now were that you couldn’t buy love.

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The evening of August 23, 1964 Jock strolled without a care to the front row of the Hollywood Bowl. Unlike in Vancouver, where the air was spiced with the first pinch of fall, it was very much summer here. The sun lingered low in the sky and the scent of eucalyptus and jasmine wafted down from the woods around one of the world’s great natural amphitheatres. A warm wind stroked Jock’s face to the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night.

That’s as far as the serenity went. The front row and its important folks were stampeded. Nobody remotely noticed anything else anymore, not even when Juno took over and Magically removed herself to the sidelines. She leaned against a redundant security barrier and took a deep breath.

The next voice she heard wasn’t John, Paul, George or Ringo’s. It cooed into her ear, ‘Taste this, and be henceforth among the Gods thyself a Goddess!’

Juno turned to look at the face that went with the velvety timbre. It was round, a little chubby maybe, with intense dark eyes and the hint of a shadow between sensuous lips and a straight manly nose. The hairstyle was clearly modelled on the four famous dos that were currently onstage. But even more clearly it was here that any hero worship on behalf of Juno’s opposite ended. His little smile hovered somewhere between amused and sardonic. It was mighty sure of itself.

Juno wasn’t aware of her heart beating real fast, nor the butterflies that were flapping ’round her belly. All that existed were those eyes and that smile playing on those lips.

‘Well?’ he said. With a start Juno noticed that he was offering her a cup. And that he’d noticed her start. His smile widened.

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Ian & Sylvia were on that night. She had a weird feeling that, since it was Kent who’d got her here in the first place, maybe she ought to talk to him. Jock retired and Juno took over. Kent spotted her right away. After Juno’d put a calming charm on him and hexed some tissues into her pocket to pass him so he could dry the beer off of his shirt that he’d spilled on seeing her, he said, ‘They really oughta make these bottles more grippable, don’t you reckon? Real slippery, they are! Anyway, you still at school, eh? Still in Hastings-Sunrise, eh? Me, I hardly see it now – got myself a real neat job! Yeah, truck-driving! Long-distance! West Coast, mostly – I go to Frisco a lot! Real neat city, not like here! Am thinking of moving there, actually. But y’know what’s even neater? I’m going all the way to LA next week! And guess what, I’ll be there to see The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl!’ Here he took a breath, not just to give Juno a chance to be impressed, but also because he needed to.

And whaddaya know – she was impressed. This time she didn’t even notice the weird ways of the air or the hair rising on the back of her neck. This time she was something like thunderstruck. Only, she knew it wasn’t thunder she’d been struck by. It was destiny.

It couldn’t be The Beatles. She’d already checked them out. They were more or less in the same category as Joni Anderson. This was something bigger than either they or Joni. But how could it be this Hollywood Bowl? As far as Juno knew it was just an open air theatre. Which left only one word in this phrase of Kent’s that had nearly floored her. At. The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. The Beatles and the Hollywood Bowl combined. It was the only possibility.

Once again Juno had someplace new to go thanks to Kent.

She had already known that the good times around here were truly all gone, but somehow she could now tell that she was finally bound for moving on. She sang with Ian & Sylvia as the door of the Inquisition swung closed behind her and inside a speechless young man touched the burning lip marks on his cheek whilst paying renewed tribute to his ever-thirsty shirt.

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She scaled up her efforts to find out what it was in the air. Her rounds of the coffee houses got slightly frantic. She crossed the border sometimes now, to The Sippin’ Lizard in Flint or The Red Door in Detroit. In February she went to see The Beatles land in New York. After that she ventured there the odd time. Bob Dylan at The Gaslight did similar kind of stuff to the air as Joni did back home. The vibe was everywhere, but all in all for some reason still nowhere as strong as at The Depression. And nowhere else did Juno get that feeling that she sort of, almost, kind of belonged.

Jock grew a little moustache and developed a taste for cigarettes and whiskey. Since alcohol didn’t have any effect on Juno he got quite a reputation. In March John sold up. Clearly he’d got itchy feet and longed to move on to greater things than Alberta. Just like Juno. But who wound up running her favourite basement? None other than David Wiffen. Juno spent night after night waiting for the chance to make Jock leave the building and Juno enter, so she could get that rare pleasure of talking to a guy who was temporarily an equal.

Months passed that way and another summer began. Juno hardly ever saw daylight. She didn’t even go to ‘The West’s Greatest Hootenanny’ in July, which was part of the Calgary Stampede and organized by ex-Depression John. She was real tired now. Tired of putting spells on her parents, tired of not having a companion, tired of her life. There seemed no point in having Magic powers. Not if all you ended up doing was sit in a basement desperately waiting for one guy to get drunk and one girl to sing. Even if the latter did have a proper guitar now.

Then, over a year after she’d last met him, Juno saw Kent Keogh at the Inquisition.

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But where to after that? That was the question Juno still wasn’t at all keen on, once she’d calmed down.

At The Depression that night the protest songs weren’t on hold. Folks were saying that the dead president had just been beginning to see the light, that he’d decided to bring a thousand troops home from Vietnam by Christmas. Some said that what would come now could only be worse.

They were proved right within days. As I’m sure you’re aware, the thousand troops stayed in Vietnam and the man who shot Kennedy dead was shot dead.

And Juno stayed officially in school. When her birthday came ’round, she still hadn’t figured out what to tell grandma and pop. Nothing and nowhere she could think of, not Paris, New York, Toronto or Rome, called to her strongly enough for her to give up her cozy set-up for good. It was nice to have someplace familiar to lay your head.

She put a blanket spell on Templeton Secondary, as Templeton Junior High was now called after the addition of grades eleven and twelve, for everybody attending the school in any capacity to forget all about her. It wasn’t an ideal solution, but it didn’t impact on people’s lives in any major way and was therefore low-maintenance. It would have to do for now. (‘Kids sure are weird at this age,’ Doris’s mom said to grandma sometime around Christmas. ‘Our two must’ve fallen out real good this time. I asked Doris how Juno got on with that Spanish paper and all she said was, “Who?” Can you credit it!’ ‘No,’ replied grandma, wondering if it could be the change already that made sensible Mrs Martin fantasize Juno had anything to do with a Spanish newspaper. Yes, grandma and pop had had some low-impact, low-maintenance spelling done to them, too. The fact that school had anything to do with tests and reports would’ve come as a real surprise to them right then.)

Juno knew she was only buying time. But she hoped, how she hoped that something would happen any day now to tell her what to do. She sure felt like she was breathing nothing but expanding intensity.

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Shots could barely be heard on the film, and two figures in the first couple’s open-top car slumped. But that wasn’t it. The main thing for Juno right there as she was compelled by those scenes on TV was the sudden draining of everything but a pitiless vacant rigidity from the room. Unyielding emptiness reigned. For a moment she feared she and grandma would be sucked into nothing too. The memory of any spells to turn to was fading fast.

Chaos erupted on a Dallas street, and into a neat parlour more than two thousand miles away a hard icy void had moved. Juno recognized it at once as the total absence of Magic.

Both she and her mom jumped when a voice called, ‘Ain’t it terrible?’ It was Mrs Martin. Juno hadn’t even closed the front door, which sure couldn’t have made the room any warmer.

‘Look, they got the guy!’ Grandma was wildly pointing again. A man was being hauled out of a building, while around him madness ensued and the world around Juno returned to normal.

Grandma and Doris’s mom sunk onto chairs in front of the TV. Juno muttered, ‘I’ll make some coffee,’ and retreated into the kitchen. She needed to think.

Stuff was happening out there. If there could be such utter absence of Magic, the actual thing itself had to be out there big time, too. What was the point of rotting in Hastings-Sunrise any longer?

Juno reckoned it was time to get up off of her butt. Her sixteenth birthday was only two weeks away. On that day she would tell her parents that she was quitting school.

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Another novel feature of that time was that Juno got tired. Proceedings at The Depression never ended before 2 am. She could run spells that would make her look fresh at school and could catch up on sleep in the early evening, but that had used to be when she’d done most of her witching concerning academic and social achievement. Her efforts at this soon got sloppy. Obviously her grades and popularity with staff and female fellow students nose-dived accordingly. But by that stage Juno didn’t care anymore. What did it matter what her reports were like or what a bunch of kids thought of her? She started bunking off for whole days. And then something happened that would make her decide to quit school for good.

 

The afternoon of November 22 Juno was having an urgent nap when she heard grandma cry out downstairs. Seconds later she cried out again. It didn’t sound like she was calling for help or anything, but something made Juno think that it wasn’t just a stain on the carpet. She reckoned she’d better skip the crystal ball and check in person. Since she was supposed to be at school she had to come in through the front door.

Grandma didn’t even ask what Juno was doing home early. She was on her feet in front of the TV and agitatedly pointed at the newsreader with one hand while waving Juno over with the other. Her face was flushed. ‘They shot him!’ she cried.

‘What?’ said Juno. ‘Who?’

‘John F. Kennedy! He’s dead! Somebody shot him! In Dallas! Oh God, and his wife right beside him!’ howled grandma when the newsreader’s face was replaced by a convoy of cars crawling along a packed city street. She’d clearly seen this footage before. Juno drew closer.

Then it happened. Juno jerked back.

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Jock the art student became Juno’s main Depression persona. She found that here she actually liked fading into the background a little, and hearing people talk about music and politics and stuff that was going on, which gave her a chance to try and figure out what that feeling in the air might be all about. She even came to enjoy being talked to in a relaxed way, and talking to people that way too. Folks seemed to like Jock. In the afternoons she sometimes had him strolling ’round the Alberta College of Art and Design, so he’d be seen by the Depression regulars among the students. One of them turned out to be none other than Joni Anderson. Looking at all the silent paintings and drawings and sculptures while the leaves drifted past the windows actually made Juno feel kind of calm for a change. 

For a little while the plundering of her coffers slowed almost to a halt.

Jock only got occasional nights off, when Juno reckoned that Peter, John and Joni deserved a break from his face, and once when David Wiffen passed through and she went as herself. That night he was sober, though. He still managed to hold off furtively scratching his balls until after each final chord had rang out, but when Juno went up to talk to him as soon as he’d finished his third and last set, he looked like all the headlights in the world were bearing down on him, just like the rest of them.

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Nevertheless The Depression became Juno’s regular hangout. You could drop in on any night and there’d always be something going on. The players on the circuit figured out pretty quick that there now was another port of call on the long trek from Toronto to Vancouver besides Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton. The scene was so small yet exciting that a basement could be the centre of the world.

At The Depression Juno got that vaguely Magic vibe she’d felt in the air this past year or so more strongly than at any other coffee house, even when people were only playing chess or checkers. Comedy night soon started being a part of events, and folks seemed to come down with their guitars from all over the mountains for the auditions on Wednesday night. And obviously there was Joni Anderson. She and Peter Elbling were the house acts and would open for players passing through, and on the few weekends when there were no guests they’d feature themselves. Juno could feel Joni getting better every time, by the stinging on the back of her neck and the concentrated elasticity of the air. Joni sure seemed to like Judy Collins’s choices. Besides Maid Of Constant Sorrow she often did The Rising Of The Moon. In between she’d play some other traditional songs and some protest songs, and some traditional protest songs. When Johnny Comes Marching Home she sang a lot. But everyone got big into the anti-war vibe.  

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Right away Juno started flinging spells at Joni. They bounced off her like tennis balls off a wall. All over the room folks started coughing and scratching themselves and singing along out of tune. Juno hardly took in what Joni sang during the rest of her set. All she kept on thinking was, was it possible… could it be… Could it be she’d finally met another witch?

But deep down she knew that wasn’t the case. The feeling was real similar, but not identical. And once Joni’d finished her set to enthusiastic applause, it was easy for Juno to make her break two strings while she tried to stow her plectrum between them and her sad little kiddie guitar’s neck.

‘I guess now that she’s starting to make money from shows she’ll soon be able to buy herself a proper guitar,’ Juno said to her neighbour, a sturdy guy in his twenties wearing a shirt and tie and thick horn-rimmed glasses who right a this moment was a little irritable. Up until fifteen minutes ago, he’d reckoned he’d kicked the nasty cough he’d picked up by modelling for his cousin’s graduation sculpture, which was entitled Nude With Burst Pipe. The last thing he needed was another dumb art student.

‘Are you for real?’ he responded and looked disdainfully at the paint-stained hand that held Juno’s character’s coke. ‘It’s a ukulele, man! And she’s real good on it too! Good job we’re not all brushheads!’

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To polite applause a real pretty eighteen- or nineteen-year-old girl with hair like a golden helmet strolled onto the stage. Juno thought she seemed mighty confident for someone new to this game, and not at all embarrassed by the fact that she only had a toy guitar. But the moment Joni started singing, Juno knew why that was.

The song was Maid Of Constant Sorrow as popularized by Judy Collins recently, which by that stage Juno’d heard a good few times. Not as it was meant to be heard, though, as it turned out. It wasn’t only Joni’s voice, and that was as pure as anything that came out of a jukebox back then. It was what powered that voice. Instantly the atmosphere in the whole hazy basement got fantastically condensed and endlessly expansive at once. Needles seemed to be growing out the back of Juno’s neck. There was no doubt that Joni had it in her to be better than everyone else who had ever sang that song.

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August turned into September and term started. Juno’d gotten no closer over the summer to a better option than going back to school, nor to finding out what the real deal was with anything. But she had enjoyed herself occasionally. So she kept on visiting the coffee houses. Talk was of a new one shortly opening in Calgary, which had so far been without a permanent folk venue. The leaflets were out.

Thus on Friday, September 13, Juno went along to the opening night of The Depression, in the guise of an art school student with paint on his hands and a snazzy beret. The place was pretty aptly named. Visually it was one of the least appealing establishments on the circuit. A dreary staircase plunged down to a murky, low-ceilinged basement with bare walls and the usual mix-and-not-match furniture. It was packed, though. The main act that night was Peter Elbling, an Englishman Juno’d seen in Toronto before and who was pretty good, in the sense that she had to stare right at him to make him sing flat. But first John, the owner, a genial giant with a neat take on those chin beards that seemed to be springing up everywhere right now, welcomed everybody and told the story of how he’d come to Calgary from Toronto and missed a coffee house so much that he just had to open his own. He went on to plug his regular events, which included the usual poetry and audition nights, and so on. Obviously Sunday was hoot night. But of course all this was new to the excited local crowd. ‘And now I’d like to introduce a great new talent from right here in Calgary,’ John concluded. ‘Please give it up for… Joni Anderson!’

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Those last days before rock ’n’ roll took off were a blessed moment for folk music in Canada. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were in the ascent south of the border, and at home the circuit was small but super-vibrant. The Riverboat was where the biggest names tended to play. Juno saw Oscar Brand there, who had a show on TV and kind of ruled the roost at that time. The Ian of Ian & Sylvia turned out to be the very same guy who’d written Four Strong Winds. And she finally caught up with The Travellers back in Vancouver. There were five of them and four of them sang, which made their sound almost choirlike. Their topics weren’t choir boys’ stuff, though. Their big encore was a song called This Land Is Your Land. The sincere young man next to Juno that night told his weird clueless neighbour who kept on making bizarre movements with his hands like he was flinging back hair where there plainly was none that the words had been written to an old melody by a guy called Woody Guthrie and were originally about the States, but later adapted for Canada by The Travelers.

But Juno liked some of the lesser-known acts just the same or more. She fancied she could tell whether someone was any good, not because she knew the first thing about music, but by the hairs on the back of her neck and the strength of that feeling. And Juno wouldn’t be Juno if she hadn’t found an additional way of amusing herself besides just listening to the performers. For extra fun she would test them. She’d send little spells their way, for them to play a bum note or forget the lyrics or feel an overwhelming need to cough. She always started them off real weak, by closing her eyes and turning away and barely thinking the words, and gradually stepped it up. Only those who caused the most intense manifestation of the feeling in Juno were momentarily immune to her maximum-strength itch-in-the-groin spell. She usually treated them to an appearance by the real fake Juno after their set, to see them handle that. In Toronto there was a singer called David Wiffen who hit on her a whole hour one time in a totally non-steamrollered, casual way, like Juno’d seen him do with lots of other girls. It would’ve helped that he’d had a few drinks.

For once Juno actually genuinely enjoyed herself that night. Although she knew damn well that none of these musicians could do real Magic, and although she often felt jealous of the way they were free to display their talents so openly and be respected and admired for them, they were still the closest thing she had to Magic companions. Real Magic folk on the other hand didn’t seem to dig folk music at all.

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Juno spent the days of her summer break that year in the lazy, expectant kind of frisson teenagers have perfected since then, before checking out folk clubs all over southern Canada at night. There weren’t all that many in the western provinces. The first ones she went to after the Yardbird Suite were the Inquisition in Vancouver and the Fourth Dimension in Regina. There was another Fourth Dimension a little further afield in Winnipeg. But Toronto was a awash with coffee houses, as these places were still called, although the liquor laws had been relaxed in most provinces by then. There was the Bohemian Embassy, the Purple Onion, the Riverboat, the Avenue Row Club, the 5th Peg, the Village Corner, the Place, the Half Beat, the Underground, the Penny Farthing and a couple more. Some of them charged admission by the hour, but otherwise they all operated pretty much along the same lines. Different stuff happened on designated nights of the week. There was always a poetry night, and some places ran a chess night. All of them had an open mike slot, when anybody could perform and hope to get hired. Fridays and Saturdays were for feature acts everywhere. Some of the bigger places in Toronto put these on during the week, too. And the general tendency was for hoot nights on Sundays, when some of the billed acts would gather and play together.

Juno realized early on that if she went as what she’d made herself she caused too much distraction. So she impersonated an assortment of guys, since she couldn’t bear being a less than bewitchingly beautiful female.

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‘The first song we’re gonna play for you tonight was written by Ian Tyson. This is Four Strong Winds,’ said the other guitarist. Some folks applauded. The group launched into the song.

It was the most beautiful music Juno had ever heard, with a haunting sweet sadness and heart-rending harmonies by the trio. And by the end of it she was amazed to see that not even her smart neighbour was paying her attention anymore. Every person in the room was spellbound by the song. That was the moment when Juno knew she was on to something.

That night she didn’t find out what exactly it was, though. The Kopala Trio did two more songs and a whole bunch of other singers and guitarists did lots more, but Juno lost track of who was who or in which group, as everybody kept on mingling onstage. At the end of the night most of the performers squeezed back up and did two numbers all together, one called Two Brothers and one called Blowin’ In The Wind. But, except for maybe during that very last song, Juno hadn’t got that dense and lithe feeling, the one she knew from Rolf’s visit and Paris and Kent’s words and now from hearing Four Strong Winds, densely and lithely enough for her to think there was some kind of connection with Magic. She left real quick before the smart kid or Abe or any of the other hundred and twenty guys could refocus on her.