It always comes down to the music.
I had a tune running through my head as my flight touched down a few minutes late at LAX. All my life I’ve had music in my head, but that night the tune (the theme from the TV series 77 Sunset Strip) was doing battle on my behalf, helping me fend off the other shit that was rattling around in there. For the past few months, my well-ordered world had been turned upside down, and throughout the long flight from London everything seemed to gang up on me. There was no escaping it in that crowded cabin. With few distractions, I’d taken stock of the difficult choices on my holy mess of a plate.
How’s this for starters: I was contemplating leaving my country, my marriage, my bank account, and my band—all at once! Any one of those would have been enough to put a grown man in the hole, but I was close to running the table.
My band, the Hollies, and I had come to an impasse. We had grown up together, spent many years making music, writing songs, drinking and larking about; we’d had a fantastic string of hits, incredible success—but from where I stood we were growing apart. I’d moved on, I was headed in an exciting new direction, and my heart and soul weren’t in the Hollies anymore.
The same with my marriage. My wife, Rosie, and I had been drifting for some time. We both knew things were coming to an end. In fact, for the last six months, we’d started seeing other people. Now she was off in Spain chasing another man, and I was on my way to Los Angeles to visit a woman who had captured my heart.
I was also in love with LA and the States. I’d known it from the moment I first set foot on American soil. It was the Promised Land, and I was drenched in the Hollywood scene—the music, the sun, the palm trees, the attitude, the looseness. The way people there asked me, “What do you think?” In England, nobody ever asked your opinion of anything. You learned to keep your business to yourself, to mind your p’s and q’s. In America it seemed like there were no rules, everything was up for grabs, and I loved the freedom of it. I wanted all of it for myself.
No doubt about it, my life had gotten complicated. I was at a hell of a crossroads. There were plenty of unanswered questions. My plight became more apparent as I got off the plane and headed to the taxi stand. There was no point stopping for baggage. I had my guitar, that was it, that was all I had come with. Nothing else mattered. I was in America. I was going to see my new girlfriend, to be with Joni.
The sun had just left the western sky as the cab crawled up Laurel Canyon, bathing the Hollywood Hills in the golden flush of summer. I got a great vibe every time I came up here. Only a few minutes from the madness of the Strip, but a world apart. There was a shabby hippie chicness to it, with crazy little houses on stilts teetering along each side of the twisty-turny road. It was a place where there were free-spirited people just like me doing the things that I wanted to do, being creative and making music. I felt the pull of Laurel Canyon, its community spirit. Man, it looked like home to me.
We stopped in front of a small wooden house on Lookout Mountain Avenue. It wasn’t a posh affair, just a one-bedroom bungalow, a little jewelbox, with a sloping shingled roof and a lovely garden out back on a lick of land. A tiny tree had taken root near the porch. A green VW van was parked by a mailbox at the curb. Inside, lights glowed brightly and I could hear the jingle-jangle of voices rising in unison. I knew she had company; I’d called her from the airport. And I knew who was with her. Still, I hesitated, fearing to intrude. I leaned on my guitar case and considered again where I was and what I was doing. Deep down, I was still a kid from the north of England, a place that conti