The lost America of Palm Springs

California was once home to a certain vision of the American dream; Mamas & the Papas records, grinning surfers, chrome bumpers. Now LA and San Francisco are full of glass and steel and petty criminals. Escape their sketchy downtowns and you’ll find huge copy-and-paste estates of identical homes. Urban sprawl has choked off California’s charm in everywhere but Palm Springs, a desert valley city to the east of Los Angeles.  Kirk Douglas lived here, alongside Rock Hudson, Janet Gaynor and Frank Sinatra. Elvis and Priscilla Presley honeymooned in the city for the whole of 1967. Producers would often oblige their stars to remain within a two-hours drive of their LA studios.

The tyranny of 1970s self-help gurus

As any book about the rise of that most nebulous idea ‘wellness’, should, James Riley’s Well Beings begins with Gwyneth Paltrow, purveyor of ‘This Smells Like My Vagina’ candles, ‘Metabolism-Boosting Super-powder’ and nostrums about mindfulness and ‘self-care’ – for which read self-indulgence. In 2019 Paltrow’s company Goop chartered a luxury liner for a ‘Goop at Sea’ extravaganza, at which attendees were invited to spend $4,200 for the ‘basic’ cruise and a suite at the ship’s onboard spa, and a further $750 for the event itself, the highlight of which would be an appearance by the high priestess of wellness herself. Goop at Sea was cancelled due to Covid. But it

‘People thought I was insane’: Graham Nash on the birth of Crosby, Stills and Nash

Graham Nash always seemed like the reasonable, peace-making one among his famously fractious compadres, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Neil Young. But he didn’t get to where he is today by being plagued with doubt or false modesty. Even talking remotely over a Zoom connection, he still radiates a kind of unshakeable certainty. ‘I just trust that the universe loves me enough to support what I’m doing,’ he declares. ‘I don’t seek my life, my life happens to me and I’m perfectly content to let it. Look what I’ve done in my life… Pretty nice!’ ‘Joni was the only witness to that sound and it was created in less than

Stewart Brand: man of ideas and infuriating contrarian

In his 2005 book What The Dormouse Said John Markoff traced the roots of the personal computer industry to the counterculture of the 1960s – a tale that owed as much to Jefferson Airplane as Jeffersonian ingenuity. Constantly popping up in that narrative is the adopted Californian Stewart Brand. Markoff wrote of his ‘Zelig-like penchant’ for being present at turning points in the story. Whole Earth, viewed one way, is an extended apology for that epithet. ‘The Zelig reference,’ Markoff says now, ‘is the wrong way to describe him, for there has been a consistent through line that has connected his various campaigns, crusades and inquiries over more than six

Private tragedies: Must I Go, by Yiyun Li, reviewed

I can think of few novels as bleak or dispiriting as Yiyun Li’s 2009 debut, The Vagrants. Set in a Chinese industrial town in 1979, it opens with one woman’s death and closes with another. The pages in between are jammed with misery meted out by scalpel: treacherous friends, underfed children, craven officials, all have their turn upon the stage, while school choirs sing unfalteringly in praise of the communist party. Her latest book, Must I Go, is more cheerful, if only by a whisker. It’s the first time Li has set a novel squarely in her adopted America, with a faded Californian babe as its heroine. Lilia Liska is