Saturday, September 16, 2017

Henry Diltz and Bill's Signs

When my father closed his sign shop in 1966 to paint billboards on the Sunset Strip, I was too young to realize that he would become a part of rock 'n' roll history, and in a way, so would I. My father's first billboard, and purportedly the first rock 'n' roll billboard on the Strip, was for The Doors, the installation of which was photographed by Henry Diltz and included The Doors themselves (see the post, "Bill's Signs). Henry Diltz, without my knowledge, had a long association with my father, although I doubt that they ever really spoke or even knew of one another. My father transcribed in paint at least half a dozen Henry Diltz photographs into gigantic rock murals in the 60s and 70s. Over the years, Diltz's photographs have become an important reference source for me (once again without my knowing), a visual representation of what I experienced growing up in L.A. and my father's odd, if iconic, role in rock history.

No other photographer was more intrinsic to the California rock scene. It's interesting though that throughout his travels, from Laurel Canyon to Elysian Park, I was making those same journeys; I was just in the back seat of the car, looking and wondering, taking it all in - just like Henry.

In an article in The Telegraph (UK, 2014), Diltz told interviewer, James Lachno, "I lived in Laurel Canyon alone at first, in a little one room cabin, with an attached kitchen and a big window that looked right out on the street. I remember sitting there for hours with the incense going. If you sat there on the bed the insence would curl up in the still air. We’d have Ravi Shankar music playing. That was kind of the mood [laughs]. Right across the street from me was Mark Volman of the Turtles. And the Mamas and Papas lived down the street, and up the street. Stephen Stills lived near there, and Joni Mitchell lived right down the hill, and Frank Zappa – a lot of musicians. There were a few families, but it was hard to have a family there because there are no back yards and no sidewalks.

Of the Love-ins, Diltz said, "We had what you called 'love-ins'. This was a Sunday afternoon where everyone showed up at the park – all wearing their colourful clothes, love beads, polka dots, as an expression of the difference between them and their parents' grey flannel suits. It was an expression of joy, experiencing life in a new, free way. Everyone would hang out and smoke a little pot, maybe take psychedelics.

Diltz' friends and career, though, centered on the musicians. He told The Telegraph: My favourite musicians were Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jackson Browne, I really admired Jimmy Webb, and of course Joni. But all the people I photographed: I love their music.

"Joni was quite a true artist: deeply creative. A lot of art is imitation but for Joni it was original, from her heart. She was really a poet, and she was a painter before she made music. She was lots of fun to photograph because she spoke so brilliantly about everything. Jackson was always very earnest, like his songs. I loved his music. John Sebastien [from the Lovin’ Spoonful] was great friends with all of us in our group. And everybody absolutely loved Mama Cass [from The Mamas & the Papas]. She was brimming with energy, and funny as a stitch to be around. We used to call Mama Cass the Gertrude Stein of Laurel Canyon, because she would get people together. She introduced Graham Nash to David Crosby and Stephen Stills." When asked if he felt said that so many musicians and friends that he photographed had died so young, Diltz said, "It’s sad, but they were like shooting stars. They burned brilliantly and they left. They’re remembered just as they were, which is one way to make your mark in life." For those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s in Los Angeles, Henry Diltz is an artist, an equal part of the scene. The musicians brought us the music; Henry help to bring to us the musicians. Henry Diltz beautiful coffee table book Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon is available through Amazon. He is the proprietor of the Morrison Hotel Galleries in New York and L.A. I don't know if Henry Diltz remembers my father; I will always think of them as working together.