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House of Anansi Press

Hollywood Eden

Electric Guitars, Fast Cars, and the Myth of the California Paradise

Written by Joel Selvin

Published April 06, 2021 | ISBN 9781487007218
BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Entertainment & Performing Arts

Cover of Hollywood Eden

Regular price $32.95 CAD

320 pages | 9 in × 6 in
Print Format

Also Available as an Ebook

About this book

Hollywood Eden

Electric Guitars, Fast Cars, and the Myth of the California Paradise

Joel Selvin

From the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean to the Byrds and the Mamas & the Papas, acclaimed music journalist Joel Selvin tells the story of a group of young artists and musicians who came together at the dawn of the 1960s to create the lasting myth of the California dream.

From surf music to hot-rod records to the sunny pop of the Beach Boys and the Mamas & the Papas, Hollywood Eden captures the fresh blossom of a young generation who came together in the epic spring of the 1960s to invent the myth of the California Paradise. Central to the story is a group of sun-kissed teens from the University High School class of 1959 — a class that included Jan & Dean, Nancy Sinatra, and future members of the Beach Boys — who came of age in Los Angeles at the dawn of a new golden era when anything seemed possible. These were the people who created the idea of modern California for the rest of the world.

But their own private struggles belied the paradise portrayed in their music. What began as a light-hearted frolic under sunny skies ended up crashing down to earth just a few short but action-packed years later as, one by one, each met their destinies head-on. A rock ’n’ roll opera loaded with violence, deceit, intrigue, low comedy, and high drama, Hollywood Eden tells the story of a group of young artists and musicians who bumped heads, crashed cars, and ultimately flew too close to the sun.

About the Author

Joel Selvin

JOEL SELVIN is an award-winning journalist and music critic who covered pop music for the San Francisco Chronicle for over thirty-five years. His writing has appeared in Rolling Stone, the Los Angeles Times, Billboard, and Melody Maker, and he has contributed liner notes to dozens of recorded albums. Selvin is also the bestselling author of over a dozen books about pop music, including Fare Thee Well: The Final Chapter of the Grateful Dead’s Long, Strange Trip; Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day; and Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues. He lives in San Francisco.

Awards and Praise


“My life back in those days was truly ‘fun fun fun’ and Hollywood Eden beautifully captures our Fifties and Sixties California music scene. Please don’t change a word!” Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys

Hollywood Eden is a keeper! Startlingly moving, it features a cast of somehow sympathetic characters who are all looking for a fast buck, some luck of the draw, or intimations of immortality. I knew full well most of the subjects of this tumultuous time; I was also there in a hedge-row cameo. So I read the book through and through. I warrant every word of it is true.” Van Dyke Parks, composer, songwriter, and lyricist of Brian Wilson’s renowned Smile album

Hollywood Eden is a detailed look at the hugely influential California music scene just before the arrival of folk rock and psychedelic music — a vital link in the chronicles of the American popular song. I found it fascinating; I love the book.” Linda Ronstadt, vocalist, songwriter, and bestselling author of Simple Dreams

“Those of us who grew up in the Darwinian slaughterhouse of New Jersey couldn’t have imagined the paradise so accurately described in Hollywood Eden. Through the years I became familiar with most of the characters in this book, yet I learned something new on every page. Joel Selvin’s special gift is putting you in the room to witness these unlikely events that became essential Rock History.” Stevie Van Zandt, musician, actor, and syndicated radio host of Little Steven’s Underground Garage


“A great and inspiring story.” — Marty Balin, founder of Jefferson Airplane

“A hundred years from now, Jerry Garcia may be remembered as a prophet and Bob, Mickey, Phil, and Billy as his disciples. Illuminating, astounding, and accurate, Fare Thee Well is a remarkable account of the successes and failures by the talented, individualist remaining members of the Grateful Dead since the death of their leader, Jerry Garcia. I read it in one sitting.” — Steve Miller, founder of the Steve Miller Band

“A deep — and deeply reported — dive into the highs and lows of the Grateful Dead world post-1995, Fare Thee Well is the in-depth postscript we need on life after Garcia. As the surviving members navigate their jarring new world, you’ll be shocked, surprised, and unexpectedly moved.” — David Browne, author of So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead

Fare Thee Well is a masterful summation of the agonies, trials, and tribulations that beset the Grateful Dead after Jerry Garcia passed away. It made me sigh with sorrow AND give thanks (virtually simultaneously) for such a gifted group of musicians. This book will appeal to every Deadhead on the planet. I loved it.” — Sam Cutler, author of You Can’t Always Get What You Want: My Life with the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, and Other Wonderful Reprobates

“As always, Joel Selvin boldly goes where others fear to tread. Fare Thee Well is essential reading for all those who have followed the saga of the good old Grateful Dead to this point in time.” — Robert Greenfield, author of Dark Star: An Oral Biography of Jerry Garcia and Bear: The Life and Times of Augustus Owsley Stanley III

Fare Thee Well tells the tale of how the Deadheads rescued the Grateful Dead from themselves. Bereft of their heart leader after Jerry Garcia died in 1995, the love of Deadheads kept the music alive so that the phenomena is not merely enduring but growing—long, strange, and still a trip.” — Dennis McNally, author of A Long, Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead

“I felt like the child of a divorce, but this book showed me I never needed to worry, not when I was under the power of something as great as the Grateful Dead.” — Steve Parish, author of Home Before Daylight: My Life on the Road with the Grateful Dead

“Most [Grateful Dead] books end with the 1995 death of Jerry Garcia. Fare Thee Well takes the opposite approach . . . it examines every sad twist, turn, and betrayal involved in the Dead’s various offshoot groups leading up to their 2015 Fare Thee Well reunion.” ? Rolling Stone

“An unblinking and balanced look at the infighting, backbiting, rancor, and resentments among the surviving ‘core four’ band members.” ? Marin Independent Journal

“An enthusiastic but clear-eyed and enjoyably gossipy piece of modern rock history.” ? Publishers Weekly


“Boy, did I live in a bubble ? or something. I had no idea the extent of bruising under the melting rainbow. Selvin is revealing our tricky gestation in the weird womb of sixties rock. Frightening.” — Grace Slick, member of Jefferson Airplane

“Meticulous research, evocative detail, and a brave conclusion ? exactly what a history book should be.” — Lee Child, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Jack Reacher series

“It was worse than you think. A lot worse . . . An account that moves at movie pace, Selvin cuts through woolly cop-out rhetoric, offering clarity and detail . . . Altamont was a tragedy in the classical sense — a disaster born of hubris and folly — and Selvin nails every last shred of both.” Mojo Magazine

“A deeply researched, minutely detailed account of the event as it unfolds, occurs, and concludes, and as a result comes to conclusions much greater than historical myth or a ‘documentary’ film can portray . . . This book is definitely worth a read, and it is extremely well researched.” —

“An incisive account of the most infamous concert debacle in rock history . . . This book provides context and perspective, showing the sea change in rock that was taking place as the Rolling Stones attempted to reassert themselves amid the increasing dominance of San Francisco psychedelia and the spirit of Woodstock . . . Compelling.” Kirkus Reviews,STARRED REVIEW

“[A] methodical history . . . Selvin’s presentation of Altamont busts the myth of innocence lost; in fact, Altamont just made the reality harder to ignore.” Publishers Weekly

“A fascinating account of the festival and its repercussions, this is also a cultural historical portrait of the West Coast rock scene, a history of the bands involved, and of the counterculture itself. Will be of interest to rock and pop culture fans.” Library Journal


“Selvin’s tale . . . rights a historical injustice, shining a light on an overshadowed great man and deepening our understanding of a history we continue to dance to.” New York Times

Here Comes the Night purports to be the story of Bert Berns, and it is certainly that — plus the in-depth story of many other fascinating individuals, as well as a socio-economic history of a musical culture, and how rhythm & blues and rock ’n’ roll changed the music business and indeed the world. I couldn’t put it down!” — Mike Stoller, member of of Leiber and Stoller

“Again and again, Selvin brings forgotten recording sessions that any other chronicler would have ignored to such stirring life that they validate not only the story he has to tell but the worth of Berns’s own life . . . Selvin lets you feel the contingency of the moment, how everything that happened — this inflection, that hesitation — could have turned out completely differently, and led to nothing.” — Greil Marcus, Believer

“Selvin has such great fun telling tales about off-kilter, unscrupulous record-biz denizens . . . The book is both an informative history of a wild time in the music business and a compendium of acerbically delivered gossip.” Maclean’s

Here Comes the Night makes a strong case for Berns as the consummate record man, not just another white guy trolling the world of NYC independent R&B looking for a buck but a passionate believer in music . . . Selvin takes a labyrinthine tale involving hundreds of characters and tames it . . . It’s a classic ’60s music story as any. And Selvin tells it with period-appropriate style . . . In the 400-plus pages, Selvin also proves a shrewd salesman: by the end you’ll have bought into the idea that Bert Berns, for all his flaws, was truly one of the great ones.” Mojo, FOUR-STAR REVIEW

“Selvin makes the case that borderline-shady characters like Berns have always cast a big shadow over pop.” Rolling Stone, THREE-AND-A-HALF-STAR REVIEW

“Joel Selvin’s new book makes a claim to greatness. In the world of glaringly and exhaustively over-examined star bios, the San Francisco–based journalist not only exhumes a lost soul in the pantheon of ’60s pop and soul (along with capturing rock ’n’ roll’s burgeoning eruption), he also creates as engaged and energetic a narrative as any so-called serious writing can contain.” Paste Magazine

“A compelling biography of a man who wrote and produced records in a fever. It’s also an unvarnished account of the often-sordid world of East Coast music publishers, tunesmiths, record hustlers, label executives, gamblers, studio engineers, rack-jobbers, dee jays, and leg breakers. This book belongs in the esteemed company of groundbreaking exposes . . . Selvin has told the story of a tortured soul worthy of the Deems Taylor Award.” DownBeat Magazine

“Berns is simply a hook for a larger history of the business of rhythm and blues in the 1960s. Here Comes the Night paints this milieu — unscrupulous businessmen shilling teenybopper hits.” Los Angeles Review of Books

“The author provides a vivid, character-filled picture of the wild west atmosphere of the New York music biz, often branching out into narrative detours that are consistently entertaining and enlightening.” Austin Chronicle

“A detailed insider’s look at twentieth-century music.” San Jose Mercury News

“Here, Selvin chronicles in delicious detail the golden era of the early 1960s rhythm and blues music scene and the turbulent, hard-knuckle world of record-making behind the glitzy, gold foil facade of rock and roll success and glamor.” Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Joel Selvin has written a book whose prose is so alive, it begs to be read out loud. Its subject matter is so thrilling, you feel the excitement of writing a great song, finding an artist for that song, and producing the song on your own label.” Goldmine Magazine

“A thrilling story of a little-known songwriter and record producer of some of the greatest rhythm and blues hits. Longtime San Francisco Chronicle music critic Selvin digs with gusto into the tasty history of New York City’s hit-making songwriters, artists, and record magnates of the great R&B era of the early 1960s, focusing on one of the greatest, if least sung of the bunch, Bert Berns . . . Selvin’s prose, muscular and Runyon-esque and never taking itself too seriously, moves the narrative along from its upbeat start to its sordid denouement at the edges of New York’s gangland. A fascinating time capsule of a freewheeling era in American music and society.” Kirkus Reviews

“Selvin delivers an authoritative look at a crucial point in American popular culture . . . The extraordinary discography of compositions and productions included here testifies to Berns’s stature . . . If you grew up with the songs, you’ll leave the book happily singing to yourself, though also saddened (this being the blues).” Booklist