Chinatown, the Eagles, and M*A*S*H

Chinatown, the Eagles, and M*A*S*H

I loved this book but can’t claim to be objective, because much of the time, Ronald Brownstein seemed to be writing about me. If you lived in LA in 1974, as I did, you may have the same reaction.

What Brownstein describes—from Chinatown to the Eagles to “M*A*S*H”—was in the water I drank and the air I breathed. The touchstones of my youth, it turns out, were milestones in American popular culture, and they were taking shape all around me.

The fascinating thing, as Brownstein chronicles in detail, was the way these cultural milestones expressed the emerging values of the Sixties several years before those values found their way into politics—in fact, during a conservative administration, when “the critique of contemporary America that had been stymied in politics by Nixon’s victories in 1968 and 1972 was channeled into an outpouring of artistic creativity.” As a result, according to the Eagles’ Don Henley, “you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a genius.”

Brownstein takes us month by month through 1974, following the stories of—among many others—Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, and Robert Towne in movies; Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and Linda Ronstadt in music; Norman Lear and James L. Brooks in television; Governor Jerry Brown in politics.

The way Henley’s geniuses crossed paths, shared ideas, and shaped all of us makes for a compelling and thought-provoking read.

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