I’m off to a good start on 2012’s book reading as I finished the first book of the year on January 3rd. I started reading it at in the last week of 2011, but since Goodreads won’t let me count it until I put a “date read” in and that date just happens to be in 2012, I’m totally counting it. The book that has the honor of being the first book I read in 2012 is David Browne’s Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Year of 1970. Man, that’s a mouthful. If any book I read this year has a longer title, I’ll be surprised.
I found this book on WILBOR, which is the distribution method of eBooks through western and central Iowa libraries. It’s pretty awesome as I find myself getting kind of annoyed with paper books now. Anyway, when I read the title, I was kind of torn. As many know, I’m fascinated with late 20th century history and now that we’re finally getting enough distance, more and more books about the 70s are finally being published. So in that respect, it was right up my alley. On the other hand, I really didn’t care too much about the artists that were being used to tell the story of 1970. Sure, I knew who they all were and was familiar enough with their music, but I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fan of any of them.
That didn’t matter. I was swept up into the stories. I LOVE reading biographies and other people’s stories. Heidi always tells me it’s because I’m a snoop. I maintain that it’s because I’m INTERESTED, not snooping. Anyway, even though I had only the most rudimentary knowledge of the stories of James Taylor and CSNY (I knew a bit more about Simon & Garfunkel and, of course, the Beatles), Browne really did a good job of getting us into the story. Yeah, sometimes it was a sea of names that were hard to keep separate, but the main characters were well drawn and their stories were told with great clarity.
During that tumultuous year when the 60s became the 70s, two of these acts were on the rise and two were falling apart. It was interesting to me to see how music really did change that year, as it moved away from the “band” and more toward the solo artist. I’ve only known James Taylor as the bald ex-husband of Carly Simon with a commercial for a hits collection that I saw ad nauseum in the 80s. I really had no idea that he was one of the first “I’m-sensitive-and-broken-so-the-ladies-all-dig-me” singer-songwriters. The break up of the Beatles – again, something I knew of but didn’t know terribly much about specifically – was fascinating to watch unravel. Similarly, the long, slow-motion car crash that was CSN&Y, as well as Simon & Garfunkel made for riveting reading. And, as you might expect, there were enough drugs in the book to sink the Titanic.
It shouldn’t have surprised me that I would get into the music aspect of this as much as I did the historical context. After all, I have always been fond of all those old AM radio classics. If anything, the history part paled next to the drama and intrigue of the music component of the book. Frequently, the historical context felt a bit shoe-horned in. The book would have been just as interesting to me if it had been left out. Now, whether or not I would have picked it up without the promise of 1970s history, that’s another question altogether.
Definitely worth a read if you’re into 70s history or any of the artists mentioned in the title. Really, anyone with interest in the recording industry or the politics of record making will find it more than worth their time.