California I'm coming home
I'm going to see the folks I dig
I'll even kiss a Sunset pig
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Laurel Canyon, with Los Angeles skyline in background
On the heels of a break up with longtime boyfriend Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell traveled throughout Europe, along the way penning the songs that appear on her 1971 album Blue
. The album explores relationships in many degrees, culminating in the title track, "Blue." Among many standouts on the album, "California" is one that expresses, perhaps most profoundly, a sense of longing. "California" was written while Mitchell lived briefly in the United Kingdom and, while Mitchell hails from Canada, expresses homesickness for the iconic west coast state.
Mitchell was a central figure in the counterculture and musical hub that was the neighborhood of Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles during the 1960s and '70s. Mitchell made Laurel Canyon her home for many years with Nash, since the split between the two was the impetus for Blue
, the homesickness expressed in "California" takes on a greater texture, and many critics have speculated that the geographical places mentioned in the song are merely stand-ins for different lovers. This supposition primarily sprung from the lines in one of the final verses of the song: "will you take me as I am / strung out on another man." Mitchell has largely denied these claims, saying that the song expresses little more than a brimming homesickness for familiar faces, cities and inspirations.
Laurel Canyon Laundry
Laurel Canyon is tucked in a valley in a more remote area of Los Angeles, yet receives a lot of traffic as a main thoroughfare between the San Fernando Valley and the ever popular West Hollywood area, effectively connecting two sides of the city. Mitchell and Graham's home stood in a central section of Laurel Canyon, on Lookout Mountain Avenue. This area of Los Angeles drew the young and idyllic for a variety of reasons. Despite being an official part of one of the largest cities in the world, Laurel Canyon seems to be a pastoral paradise tucked within the glamour and constant motion of the big city. Lemon trees grow in abundance and cabins built at the turn of the century still stand in this area. Also, during the upswing of the area in the '60s, it was cheap to live in Laurel Canyon, thus drawing large numbers of young people from Los Angeles proper as well as areas throughout the world. The natural and economical qualities of Laurel Canyon meshed with the sentiments of the counterculture during the freewheeling '60s and '70s and the Canyon soon boasted a close knit community of artists and musicians, including not only Mitchell, but the likes of Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison, David Crosby, the band Love, Mick Jagger and a constant stream of visitors.
However the song is interpreted, Mitchell's lush vocals paired with spare production give voice to the sense of freedom that so many associate with the sunshine soaked coastal cities of California, none more than Los Angeles. As an enclave of progressive ideals and creative energy within the city, no area is more symbolic of this powerful impression than Laurel Canyon, to which Mitchell sings her love induced hymn.
~ Maggie Grimason
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