Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Fire and Rain
I have a penchant for rock biographies, especially those detailing the lives of the bands I listened to when I was coming-of-age in the sixties. Dunno how many I've read, but a shelf's worth, at least. Probably four or five on the Beatles alone. If there was a major rock group in that era and somebody has done a biography or autobiography on them, I've probably read it.
Like Rashomon, the classic samurai movie that shows how different people view the same event, dueling bios can be most interesting and entertaining. Here's how McCartney saw a particular happening go down; over there, George Harrison's memory; what Lennon saw and said; how Ringo recalls it; what Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Patty Boyd, George Martin or Billy Preston pulled up from their recollections of the same moment.
Objectivity is hard to determine at a far remove, and all the subjective snapshots are just that, subjective, but sometimes, with enough views from enough different angles, you can get a more complete picture. Always fascinating to me to hear how time and space alters personal reality. You remember that night in Soho when the cops showed up? Yeah, but it was in Paddington and it was in the afternoon. No, it was near the power station early in the morning, and ...
I'm currently reading David Browne's book, Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970.
Something of a mouthful, the title, and the story isn't particularly lost, but a good read so far–I'm about two-thirds of the way through. Much of it covers familiar territory, in that I've read other biographies about a lot of what he's detailing, but it does the same Rashomon-like shift, and it also covers some groups about which I haven't read much. It centers around the year 1970, which was pivotal in the rock 'n' roll scene–the year the Beatles broke up, and it crosscuts among the groups CSN&Y, Simon and Garfunkel, and the rise of James Taylor, all of whom were also heading into break ups, or, in Taylor's case breaking down.
That VH1 Behind the Music arc, which is a cliché now, wasn't so well-publicized back in the day. In all these bios, the sex-drugs-rock 'n' roll aspects pop up, of course, even then fans knew all about those; what I didn't get as much as a dewy-eyed lad were the monster egos that wracked and ruined so many groups, and how bad things really were behind closed doors.
This part has all come out in the wash, and sometimes it's really dirty laundry. Here we were, listening to these wonderful harmonies, these moving, touching songs, and the singers and players who were smiling on stage were at each other's throats in the dressing room.
Or stabbing each other in the back, to hear them tell it.
Were it not for multi-track recorders, some of the best and most popular music of the 60's peace-and-love generation would never have been produced. John lays down his track on Monday, Paul comes in on Tuesday, Ringo and George are there Wednesday, and it all sounds so harmonious when it gets blended together it's hard to believe they were to the can't-stand-each-other stage.
Sometimes this had been going on for years, as in the case of Simon and Garfunkel, who met and started singing together as pre-pube children and were at it off and on for fifteen years when this story takes place.
And maybe it is the clash of wills and the hard rows that give the music something extra; Fleetwood Mac's best stuff came about when they were all in great personal disarray. Eagles? Jeez, you can feel the hate ooze from them when you see them interviewed, and one of their most recent tours was called The Hell Freezes Over tour. Harrison's best love long was about his wife; Clapton's best love songs were about his best friend George's wife, too. Brian Wilson led the Beach Boys through their heyday while falling into a dire mental fugue that took him decades to climb out of.
Hard to sing the blues right if you ain't got no troubles ...
Mm. Anyway, this book has another aspect, in that it is the first one I've read on my iPad. So far, while it's not as organic as paper, it is an enjoyable experience. Depending on whether I use the airplane mode or not, I can get somewhere around 8-10 hours using the tablet as a reader. Enough to do a lot of that.
In other news, today is the first day of summer, and it appears that we will hit eighty degrees F. here for but the second time this year. Rest of the country is burning up, some of literally, down in the Southwest, and we can hardly complain that we've had balmy days and a lot of drizzle–second-wettest spring on record since they started keeping records here. When I look at it being a hundred degrees and thunderstormy down in Louisiana and it only got to seventy-two here yesterday, that doesn't sound so bad ...