Credit: Alamy

Why Joni Mitchell hated being neighbours with Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa and Joni Mitchell both helped make the world of music a brighter place with their art. Although their delectable sounds came from two different ends of the spectrum, they both made people feel raw emotions in a way that few others could. When the two acclaimed songwriters both lived in the Laurel Canyon in the late 1960s, it was one of the most exciting places to live in the world. It was full of artistic types living out their dreams, but Zappa’s lack of care towards his neighbours left Mitchell furious.

This place wasn’t just home to Mitchell and Zappa. Other creative sorts who lived out at Laurel Canyon included Neil Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Chris Hillman, Roger McGuinn, J. D. Souther, and Judee Sill, the Mamas and the Papas, Carole King and The Eagles. The Canyon was the place to be for anyone involved in the arts and was living out their fantasy.

Anything was possible in the Laurel Canyon, and it was full of the wildest characters in the world of music, film and art, ushering in a new dawn of creativity that seemed like it could envelop anything in its way. Both with their musical output and their liberal, progressive attitude that was capturing the nation’s hearts and minds, those stars in Laurel Canyon shone brighter than most.

Joni Mitchell perfectly described Laurel Canyon to Vanity Fair in 2015. She told the publication: “When I first came out to L.A. [in 1968], my friend [photographer] Joel Bernstein found an old book in a flea market that said: Ask anyone in America where the craziest people live and they’ll tell you California. Ask anyone in California where the craziest people live and they’ll say Los Angeles.

“Ask anyone in Los Angeles where the craziest people live and they’ll tell you Hollywood. Ask anyone in Hollywood where the craziest people live and they’ll say Laurel Canyon. And ask anyone in Laurel Canyon where the craziest people live and they’ll say Lookout Mountain. So I bought a house on Lookout Mountain.”

In the same feature, Mitchell reminisced further about this time as did other key figures who helped make Laurel Canyon the place to be. The singer added: “Elliot (Roberts), David (Crosby), and I migrated from New York to Los Angeles. David was my agent; Elliot was my manager. I bought this little house, and David Crosby chided me for it; he said I should have looked around. But I liked that house.” The plot just so happened to be within earshot of Frank Zappa.

Whilst Mitchell liked the house, living near Frank Zappa was something that she didn’t hold adoration for, and her mother was even more bamboozled by the environment when she came to visit. “My dining room looked out over Frank Zappa’s duck pond,” Mitchell recalled. “Once when my mother was visiting, three naked girls were floating around on a raft in the pond.

“My mother was horrified by my neighbourhood. In the upper hills the Buffalo Springfield were playing, and in the afternoon there was just a cacophony of young bands rehearsing. At night it was quiet except for cats and mockingbirds. It had a smell of eucalyptus, and in the spring, which was the rainy season then, a lot of wildflowers would spring up. Laurel Canyon had a wonderful distinctive smell to it,” Mitchell added.

Mitchell’s recount of living nearby to Frank Zappa was how one would precisely imagine living next to a character as eclectic as he was would be. What you saw on-stage or in interviews was seemingly the same as how Zappa acted at home if Mitchell’s anecdote is anything to go off. Laurel Canyon was the place to be in 1968; it was full of wild characters living life on the edge and sights like three naked girls floating on a raft on Frank Zappa’s duck-pond were nothing out of the ordinary.

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