[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Topanga Canyon is closer to a collective spell than a parcel of the city. Supine between Woodland Hills and PCH, it's the 1960s' last stand, a mountain enclave suffused with eccentrics, rusted vans and stunning vistas. Even the hitchhikers drink reverse osmosis – filtered water.
It's the opposite of the inferno. Hope isn't abandoned; it's embraced and offered a free horoscope reading.
Laurel Canyon might be the subject of innumerable musical tributes, but everyone who understands sanctifies Topanga. Ax-wielding residents have included Woody Guthrie, Spirit, Captain Beefheart and Neil Young. The slanted and enchanted road that winds into the area allegedly inspired Jim Morrison to write “Roadhouse Blues.” Charles Manson once called it home, before the auspicious vibes spooked him out.
Topanga Canyon is currently the address of Morgan Delt, a psychedelic bug-out one-man band who is probably the best musician to emerge from the village since VW campers were in vogue. His songs channel Syd Barrett backed by the Velvet Underground, if they had alternated between hallucinating UFOs and sneering at “chakra sharks.”
The latter is a title lifted from his eponymous January LP debut. It was released by the Trouble in Mind imprint and fittingly written after a would-be meditation guru disparaged Delt's wife during a class.
“It's an anti – new age song,” Delt says. “This teacher told her that she was killing the vibe, which you would think would be the opposite attitude you'd offer in a meditation course.”
We're speaking in the basement studio of the Topanga home that Delt shares with his wife and their grade-school daughter. By day, the San Jose native in his mid-30s works as a graphic designer, building websites for Hollywood films. By night, the USC film graduate summons hypnagogic jams on vintage guitar, piano, eerie synthesizers and drums – recording them to a computer and filtering them through a four-track player.
Morgan Delt is not his real name but rather a preferred pseudonym heisted from 1966 British comedy Morgan – A Suitable Case for Treatment, about a “working-class artist obsessed with Karl Marx and gorillas.”
“It was one of my dad's favorite movies, and, since my first name is Morgan, it just made sense,” Delt says. “The studios I work with don't even know that I make music.”
His curtain of wavy strawberry-blond hair makes Delt resemble Robert Plant. But few heard his creations until Trouble in Mind discovered his Bandcamp page in late 2012.
His original vision was free-jazz electronic experiments fusing electric Miles Davis to the Warp Records aesthetic. But after he moved from downtown to Topanga a decade ago, the canyon worked its voodoo. His music began swirling with psychedelic charm and droning guitars. The album cover is a paisley-colored picture of Delt's face obscured by a flower force field.
We speak at length about his music career and cults and how utopian dreams often wind up creepy. I ask, several times, whether Topanga Canyon has influenced his music, but he won't give a clear-cut answer. He thinks so, but he doesn't know. Maybe?
“I suck at interviews,” he says, offering an apologetic smile.
Instead he tells stories of weird Topanga run-ins: the woman who lectured him on homeopathic remedies for his dog's “post-traumatic stress disorder,” the original home he would've rented if not for its proscription against refrigerating meat of any kind, the self-help gurus with their dubious prophecies.
His music simultaneously embraces and rejects these extremes. It's as wild as you can get while remaining melodically reined in enough for people to enjoy. It's trippy without relying on dogma or nostalgic cliché. This is Topanga Canyon for the 21st century: hippie but not hollow-headed – permanently spellbinding.
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