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Fire and Rain Hardcover – 23 Jun 2011
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“[Browne’s] attention to detail lends this compelling book a depth and richness rarely found in rock biography.”
“A fascinating look at an era when an artist's reputation was built not on social media sites, but on the music itself.”
“Had Tolstoy been a reporter for Rolling Stone, he could’ve told this story better, but it would have taken him an extra 500 pages.”
“Fascinating doesn’t even come close as we get a never before seen glimpse of the time leading up to Paul McCartney’s announcement that he was leaving the Beatles and the intertwining, almost incestuous connections between all four of these artists, not to mention the tremendous cultural tremors going through the body politic as a whole and how this informed their music.”
“A true trip down musical memory lane…This was a most interesting time in music and life, with much happening on the world stage. The author captures it precisely, giving us the inside story of the four top acts and how their music changed the music world for the better.”
Relix, October/November 2011
Stuff I Like (blog), 11/27/11
“Evocative and splendidly written.”
Times Square Gossip, 9/2/11
“As a music fan, I appreciated the new details that [Browne] uncovers for each of the artists…The way he weaves in the timely moments in society (Kent State; Vietnam); wrapping them around his words…is miraculous…If you're a music fan from those halcyon days of the 70's...this one's for you.”
“[Browne] puts his mark on yet another transition period in rock and roll, connecting the dots to delineate a pop music universe that now seems so much more naïve and innocent.”
“Compelling new tome… By placing the music in the context of time, but never letting the time overwhelm the subject of his book, Browne strips away that mythic quality of each release and makes them seem fresh and new again.”
Kirkus Reviews, 5/15/11
“Through the lens of four fabulously successful musical acts, a Rolling Stone contributing editor looks at the moment 1960s idealism “began surrendering to the buzz-kill comedown of the decade ahead…A vivid freeze-frame of Hall of Fame musicians, some of whom would go on to make fine records, none ever again as central to the culture.”
“Eminently readable….Browne’s engrossing account of this fertile but volatile period sets the standard by which comprehensive musical histories should be judged.”
“Chronicled capital-R rock music’s transition from late 1960s insurrection to early 1970s introspection.”
“Browne tells us much we didn’t know about each artist, but also gives a decent historical account of that year’s events, from the Apollo 13 crisis to the Kent State shootings to the bomb-making activism of The Weathermen to Nixon’s bid for re-election. Through numerous interviews and painstaking research, Browne has built up a forensic picture of these 12 months, and allows us to become flies on the wall at recording sessions, band meetings, public appearances and backstage at concerts.”
“Using new interviews with the artists and their colleagues, as well as access to rare documents and recordings from the period, Browne employs a smart narrative style to make such well-worn stories as the Beatles’ breakup fresh again.”
“It wasn’t obvious as it was happening, but, as David Browne shows in Fire and Rain, 1970 turned out to be a watershed year in popular music. … Browne’s engrossing account of this fertile but volatile period sets the standard by which comprehensive musical histories should be judged.”
Library Journal, 6/8/11
“Browne engagingly illuminates many overlooked stories that may not be familiar to even dedicated rock enthusiasts. Highly recommended.”
About the Author
David Browne is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and the author of three books: Dream Brother (2001), Amped (2004), and Goodbye 20th Century (2008). He also contributes to the New York Times, NPR, and other outlets. He lives in New York City.
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The whole saga of CSNY's tour is described, including the lack of rehearsals which resulted in the first show ending with Crosby, Neil and Young flying to LA and leaving Stills to head to the soundcheck in Chicago only to find the show had been cancelled. After threats from promoters, they agreed to resume the tour. Meanwhile, Paul Simon was becoming irritated by Art Garfunkel's disappearance to make films. Unhappy about having to work around a partner, Simon ended the year by deciding to make records on his own. There is also the inter-twined story of James Taylor and manager Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon fame and who sensibly decided to leave the debacle that was Apple) and his rather reluctant path to success.
It is interesting to read how all these great musicians intersected - having the same girlfriends, hanging out together, competing and also, often, combining to make wonderful music. Still, the year ended in December with Paul McCartney having writs delivered to Lennon, Harrison, Starr and Klein. As Stills recalled, "The Let it Be stuff was overhanging the whole year, that they were basically ready to kill each other," and that "it permeated the whole industry". This is a fascinating account of that year of excess and personal trauma and the music that was made, almost despite the problems facing the people involved.
By contrast, the split between Simon and Garfunkel seems to have been as allusive and underplayed as one of their delicate songs - "The Dangling Conversation", for example. And CSNY could be viewed as barely having been together in the first place: although "Deja Vu" is probably a stronger record than their groundbreaking debut album, Browne shows that it resulted from a much reduced degree of collaboration, which only decreased during their subsequent tour in support of the record. The fragmenting groups are contrasted with the increasing importance of solo artists such as James Taylor, leading to the identification of 1970 with the dawn of the era of the singer-songwriter.
The author sets the musical scene within the context of the changing political and cultural climate in the USA at the end of the sixties, telling the story of the protests against the Vietnam war and for civil rights, and their violent manifestations in the bombs of the Weathermen and the students who were killed at Kent State (which famously resulted in CSNY's single "Ohio"). This part of the story contained many surprises for me - for example, it was estimated that radical groups were responsible for more than four thousand explosions in the course of the year. Because they were all preceded by warnings, none were fatal - indeed, the only fatalities occurred when three members of the Weathermen blew themselves (and the entire building they were in) up whilst constructing nail bombs in March 1970.
The author visits the tale of each act in turn, cleverly managing to give the impression that each one is more interesting than the others. He presents a lot of details that were new to me, including a fascinating account of Paul Simon teaching a course on songwriting at New York University, the making of James Taylor's 1970 film Two-Lane Blacktop, Stephen Stills' lengthy sojourn in London, and the creation of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and its companion (which I hadn't known existed) Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band. Instead of spending a lot of time exploring the music, he concentrates instead on teasing out the links between the four acts. This produces some interesting insights: I knew that Art Garfunkel had a relationship with Laurie Bird, James Taylor's costar in "Two-Lane Blacktop", but I hadn't known that Crosby, Stills and Nash had failed an early audition for Apple - possibly because of old animosity between The Beatles and The Hollies (Graham Nash's previous band).
I greatly enjoyed this book for such fascinating insights. On the whole, it's well-written, apart from a couple of clunkers which would have benefited from closer attention by the editor - e.g. (p172) "Just a few weeks before, Nash had been in he and Mitchell's shared house on Lookout Mountain Avenue [...]". Elsewhere, we learn that (p214), "Other than McCartney [...] the others looked disinterested in being Beatles.", but I'm fairly sure the author meant that they weren't interested in being Beatles, as opposed to taking an unbiased view of the matter. Finally, I got a bit tired of people who were continually "reaching out" to each other, rather than merely getting in touch or telephoning. But this is to pick nits from a nice piece of work, which more than lived up to the expectations I had of it.
Actually the focus is not so much on the albums themselves - Brownes interpretations of the various songs are surely one of the weaker aspects of the book - but more the tumultous lifes of the involved artists. All 3 bands at the verge of break up and breakdown, leaving James Taylor in many ways as the 'hero' of the story.
No doubt David Browne has put lots of effort and research into this work, though apparently CSN are the only ones who have actually wanted to participate in the books making. He also succesfully manages to put the music in to a larger perspective: Nixon, Vietnam war, bombings running rampant in the US (a rather forgotten aspect of the times), the killings at US university campuses by the national guard, the Mason family.
In the end though he doesn't really make it evident why such brilliant and long lasting Art could grow out of all this trivial in-fighting and dope misuse. The idea that perhaps Art is a sphere of it's own with its owm laws seem foreign to him. Which might be connected with his disdain for the more spiritual aspects of these artists as when he says that '..he[Phil Spector] even made the chant "Hare Krishna" in "My Sweet Lord" palatable'.
A fine read for anyone into rock history and ofc for anyone interested in these four formidable acts.
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