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S. Holland (Nashville, TN USA)
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White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s
White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s
by Joe Boyd
Edition: Paperback

78 of 81 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid, tasty piece of work, 19 May 2006
I'd feared Joe Boyd's White Bicycles would be lightweight--not sure why, except that so many books are, nowadays--and thought I might only be interested in the section about the Witchseason artists and their time period (a favorite of mine). To my delight, Boyd's accounts of earlier adventures in the States and the UK, and of the many musicians he worked with then, are just as fascinating. He writes well, and his knack for remembering and expressing detail makes all the people he encountered seem very real, and gives depth to the book.

As reviewers elsewhere have pointed out, this isn't an autobiography of Boyd himself, but a memoir of his role in a specific timeline. There isn't much reference to his childhood, or to personal relationships; those aren't what Boyd is concerned with. For instance, of all the photos of musicians and moguls in the book, only two snapshots include him. You might expect him to be egotistical, considering the influential career he's had, but he really doesn't sound that way. While he does come across as quite confident--and if he hadn't been, he wouldn't have been able to work with so many people in so many different situations--he doesn't cast himself as the central figure. He portrays himself simply as one of the players in an amazing part of musical history, and gives the impression of trying to be fair as he looks back on everything. A few times I found myself reading between the lines, as he talked about a person or situation with which I was already familiar, and I suspected he was being careful not to say what he really thought. But this was obviously in deference to the feelings of others, not from a desire to lie or be secretive.

Throughout the book, you're impressed by the fact that no one else has had quite Boyd's point of view. His descriptions of road trips make the blues musicians involved nearly jump off the page; the same goes for his inside accounts of the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals. And I got a clearer idea of the UFO club than I've ever gleaned from anything else written about it.

Boyd leaves out some things; I was surprised and disappointed that he doesn't once mention Anthea Joseph, who was a close co-worker during the Witchseason years. But he gives wonderfully affectionate pictures of Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, engineer John Wood, and many others. He talks about the recording techniques used decades ago, in terms even I could understand. Only a few times does he get the least bit preachy; unlike some other memoirs written by people fondly remembering the 60's, Boyd sticks pretty much to facts, and to his impressions at the time instead of later ruminations.

White Bicycles is an evocative book, great for a straight-through read, and then for dipping into again and again for reference and enjoyment. Highly recommended!


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