Thundering west from the City of Angels, Route 101 becomes the Ventura Freeway. As it passes through a valley north of the Santa Monica mountains, a city opens up on the passenger side: Agoura Hills. It’s rugged California terrain, the Freeway carving a route between state parks and arid mountain trails, real estate sprouting off to the side like flowers off a vine. The area took its name from an eccentric local settler, Pierre Agourre, who’d left his native Basque country to live the life of a Spanish cattle rancher in the early 1870s. When the Freeway opened in 1960 the region was ripe for development, and tracts of housing were built to provide a peaceful suburban setting for families keen to escape LA. The racial unrest of the Watts Riots in 1965 only fuelled this exodus, and permissive county supervisors oversaw the development of a million acres of California soil into single-family units across the region. As described by Mike Davis in City of Quartz, this first wave of homeowners had ‘a powerful interest in trying to pull up the gangplanks to prevent further urbanization and loss of rural amenities’. Indeed, the county’s failure to limit further development prompted the residents of Agoura Hills to vote their scrubland suburb into cityhood, which they did in the early 80s. Boundaries were drawn, and the gangplanks lifted.
This locus of scrubland real estate was the birthplace of Hybrid Theory.
Laurel Canyon sits 25 miles back east, down Route 101. It’s developed a mythic gravity ever since it became the heart of America’s counter-culture scene in the early 60s. In a short space of time it was home to the Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas, the Doors, Frank Zappa, Arthur Lee, and Buffalo Springfield. They crashed and jammed in each other’s cabins, sharing drugs and runaway teens and plotting their aural assaults on the LA club scene from their porches. In a colourful counter-history titled Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, the writer David McGowan alleged that the scene was a CIA ‘psychological operation’, designed to derail the anti-war movement with directionless hippy grooves. Even if we don’t detect the dreaded hand of the secret state in this rare and wonderful confluence of talent and creativity, questions linger. What were the forces that brought these people to live and create in a certain time and place? And furthermore, what brought them into our consciousness? I’ve asked the same of Linkin Park, and the answer I’m offering here is a paranoid history, but one that I think shines a light on their real significance.
In 1968 the world was rocked by a series of protests. Youths and students raised in the shadow of nuclear annihilation had woken up to the notion that it needn’t be this way. Orthodox society was increasingly seen as a stifling, patriarchal prison, with exploitation and pointless violence stamping on the species like a jackboot. If Britain’s failed assault on Suez in 1956 lit up the weaknesses of Empire like a flare, the violence of the USSR when crushing the Hungarian uprising left many people questioning the communist alternative. Violent men and their grinding machines, their rifles and classifications – these had led the West through two world wars and into Auschwitz. So, if people couldn’t overthrow the machine by becoming machines themselves, they’d have to wage their war at the level of culture.
Despite the generosities of post-war social democracy, class distinctions didn’t disappear, and much of the hippy lifestyle was only accessible to members of the upper and middle class. Nonetheless, a ‘counter-culture’ emerged, and people from every walk of life were exposed to its radical messages. The ‘counter-culture’ encompassed experimentation with drugs, hostility to conformism, and a permissive approach to sexual relations that was enabled by the mass availability of the contraceptive pill in ’63. As well as this, a turn against the psychic oppressions of organised religion saw many young Westerners embracing Eastern religion and ‘spirituality’, celebrating Third World cultures in a way that many would now deem problematic, but which stemmed from a sense that the world was more than the older generation would have them believe.
Wheels were turning. Martin Luther King Jr intoned his dream of racial equality, and student protesters opposing the Vietnam War inserted flowers into gun barrels bristling outwards from the Pentagon. And these changes weren’t confined to the white-bread West. For every Jean-Paul Sartre in France there was a Franz Fanon in Martinique, and the latter writer’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961) was an instant classic. In Brazil, the Tropicalia movement rebelled against the US-backed military junta with anarchic psychedelia and their theory of antropofagia – cannibalising invasive cultures, creating hybrid identities that threatened the status quo. They pinned their hopes on the cultural forms and behaviours they hoped would flip a collective switch in the global mind and bring about change. The stakes were high, and well expressed by Theodor Roszak in The Making of a Counter-Culture (1970):
It the resistance of the counter culture fails, I think there will be nothing in store for us but what anti-utopians like Huxley and Orwell have forecast – though I have no doubt these dismal despotisms will be far more stable and effective than their prophets have foreseen. For they will be equipped with techniques of inner-manipulation as unobtrusively fine as gossamer. Above all, the capacity of our emerging technocratic paradise to denature the imagination by appearing to itself the whole meaning of Reason, Reality, Progress, and Knowledge will render it impossible for men to give any name to their bothersomely unfulfilled potentialities but that of madness. And for such madness, humanitarian therapies will be generously provided.
“Nonsense!” I scoff, spluttering a dust-cloud of half-crunched fluoxetine.