Hollywood Eden

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


Hollywood Eden brings the lost humanity of the record business vividly back to life … [Selvin’s] style is blunt, unpretentious and brisk; he knows how to move things along entertainingly … Songs about surfboards and convertibles had turned quaint, but in this book, their coolness is restored.” — New York Times

From surf music to hot-rod records to the sunny pop of the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, the Byrds, and the Mama’s & the Papa’s, 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 invented 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(s)

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. Selvin is also the bestselling author of over a dozen books about pop music, including 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.


A jukebox musical of a book … If Altamont marked the premature end of the 1960s, Hollywood Eden is the decade’s origin story, capturing the lingering 1950s and the transition in Southern California music from surfing and hot rods to the singer-songwriters of the canyons.

For a tale of dreams, there’s a lot of hustle going on in Hollywood Eden … For every sonic visionary, be it [Brian] Wilson or Phil Spector, there are a dozen people scraping by … What Selvin does so well is focus on a specific community and what made it work … Selvin took a similar approach in his ’60s Bay Area pop book, Summer of Love. Here he zooms in tighter on less trodden ground, with more revelatory results.

Selvin tells this inside story as if he were right there … Hollywood Eden is a lively and well-researched book.

Forget the subtitle, which is its own myth. The book is in stray facts no one else would dig up, yet alone think of publishing … and, in this ten-years-on-the-strip tale of white people coming out of University High in Los Angeles and making records, the way Selvin can cut right down to what really matters, over and over again.

Greil Marcus