Sunday, September 18, 2011

Connections or the Lack Thereof, Part 2

Wow, it's been almost two months since I wrote Part 1. Time flies whether you're having fun or not. Anyway, the other book pop culture book I read was Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970 by David Browne. For this baby-boomer who was coming of age in the early 70's, this was a fun read. I owned 3 of the 4 albums under discussion in the book: Let it Be, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Deja Vu (I've never owned a James Taylor album even though I liked his early music). The author does a nice job writing about the circumstances of each album's recording, release, and reception. Most of the material about Let It Be was old hat to this Beatle fan, and as I recently read Shakey, a biography of Neil Young, the CSNY material was familiar to me. Most of the new information I gained was about James Taylor: I didn't know he lived with Joni Mitchell for a spell--I suspect a list of her lovers would read like a Who's Who of 70s California rock--and though I knew he was hooked on heroin in his youth, I didn't know he was on and off of it for so long.

The disappointing part of the book comes in connection with the subtitle, and the "connection or the lack thereof" of my blog entry title. Browne begins by saying that 1970 has gotten a bad rap in pop culture history, that years like 1967 (the Summer of Sgt. Pepper) or 1969 (Woodstock) are considered more important, but that 1970 truly marked the end of an era and the beginning of another. He points out that 1970 was the year of the last albums by the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel, and the first albums by CSNY and James Taylor, but never explains the significance of this. It's not like the last/first dichotomy really works--there was a previous CSN album, and Young only made a couple of albums with the group; there was also an earlier James Taylor album but it didn't make the charts. And Paul Simon continued to be a force in pop music at least through the 90s.

I like that Browne does make some fun if insubstantial connections, such as that 1970 started with Paul McCartney attending a Crosby Stills Nash & Young concert, and that James Taylor's first album was on the Beatles' label Apple, but ultimately the connections don't hold up, and certainly there is no real argument made about the cultural importance of 1970. Browne is also inconsistent about discussing the music: he does a nice job with Taylor and some of the songs on Bridge Over Troubled Water, but not much with the other two groups. Still, he did do his homework, and this was fun to read from a nostalgia viewpoint. He also sent me back to the music of these artists, and there's nothing wrong with that.