Saturday, April 21, 2012

Turn! Turn! Turn! / Eight Miles High

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Turn! Turn! Turn! and Eight Miles High (Backbeat, 2002).

I finally indulged in a little of my inner hippie and read Richie Unterberger's mammoth two-volume chronicle of the folk-rock sound of the sixties, from Newport to Woodstock, during which time David Crosby morphed from chubby-cheeked cherub into Santa Walrus. It is dense, quite scholarly in tone and incredibly detailed in its research. Sometimes, there are issues trying to decipher this, as the author seems hell-bent on including far more material than the subject honestly needs. There seem to be, for instance, several hundred eyewitness accounts of "Bobby" Dylan's electric set at that game-changing Newport Folk Festival. After pages and pages and pages about it, I started to think that Unterberger planned to excerpt from every one of them.

It's absolutely sweeping in its scope, which is definitely going to mean that anybody tackling it is going to find an eye-glazingly dull patch for every one that entrances, and the uniform, uncritical tone doesn't allow projects to stand out as essential listening. I followed along with YouTube when I could, and, honestly, didn't enjoy as much of the music as I thought that I might. This was the music that I loved in high school before I discovered the Cure. All of that band's records have aged tremendously well; Jefferson Airplane's have not. Neither have Buffalo Springfield's.

To be honest, outside of the Beatles, who have always been on my playlist, the music from the period and the genre that I really do enjoy right now is music that I discovered quite some time after my teenage immersion in it: Dylan, the Byrds and, especially, Love, whose Forever Changes remains my favorite album of the sixties. I didn't listen to any of their music in high school, preferring other folkie hippies - add Simon & Garfunkel and The Mamas and the Papas to the names above - whose tunes I just don't care for at all anymore, and haven't for years. I wonder why that is. Anyway, Love doesn't get a very detailed mention, but the Byrds, through their first five albums anyway, form the backbone of the narrative.

This is how it should be; those first five Byrds LPs are really, really good, and I definitely recommend following video of the group so that listeners who find the Byrds' original recording of "Triad," before it was given to the Airplane, a little disturbing on account of the frightening concept of a threesome with Santa Walrus. He was a good-looking fellow, once! And Jim - slash - Roger McGuinn, with those blue granny glasses and piercing stare. I don't know that there was a cooler white man in the sixties.

But the books throw curve balls. Readers will be deeply in California, listening to some sunshiney pop played with a twelve-string, and suddenly Unterberger goes off on a tangent and the next thing you know, you're eleven pages into some treacle about Fairport Convention. Bloody hippies. Recommended anyway.

No comments: