Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Some kind of Golden Age"

If there's 1 really good, vivid, single book that gets across some of the feeling of what it was like 2 live thru most of the tumultuous events of the 1960s, I haven't found it yet.
Johnathon Green's huge "oral history," DAYS IN THE LIFE: VOICES FROM THE ENGLISH UNDERGROUND 1961-1971 (1988), has some good stuff in it, some funny stories -- but the book is either 2 long or not long enuf at 440 pgs, or Green interviewed the wrong people. 4 while I'm sure that many of these folks have memories that still burn brightly inside their heads, not that many of them can get their memries across in ways that make 4 gripping reading.
There R a few who definitely can: Musician/rock-critic/novelist Mick Farren, scenemakers Steve Sparks, Peter Shertser & Felix Dennis, record-producer Joe Boyd, Beatles' press-officer Derek Taylor, photographer/designer Gene Mahon, journalist Miles, photographer Keith Morris, & a coupla others make their memries come alive & make each new quote worth looking 4ward 2.
But many of the 101 folks interviewed 4 this book Cm kinda unemotional, kinda flat, or they fill-in lotsa background Dtail but they don't bring much else 2 it. There is some perspective & insight, but.... Paul McCartney was interviewed 4 this book, but from his comments he coulda bn NE1. Paul's always wanted 2 come-across as just-plain-folks since about 1970, but.... If U'r not a real Britfan or closet Anglophile, this book may not B worth tracking down. I AM, but I still had trouble finishing it.
Some of the dryness, I think, is Bcos Green has his interviewees tell the Ntire story of England's hippie/underground/psychedelic movement. Green chose not 2 preface the book w/ NE short history of the English counterculture, nor even a timeline of events. If U're British, this is probly fine -- this book was published in the U.K. 4 a U.K. audience, & I think it would B pointless (& almost insulting) 4 an American book trying 2 cover the same period 2 remind me up-front about summa the important things that happened in the U.S. during that decade.
But the result is that the 1st 50+ pgs of the book R very slow going, as summa the interviewees try 2 remember what they felt the 1st "underground-related" event was -- & U often get 6 2 12 diffrent eyewitness accounts of a given event. Sometimes this is justified, as in the long Dscriptions of the 24-Hour Technicolor Dream "happening" that was probly the real public birth of the English underground -- at least musically speaking (Pink Floyd & Soft Machine both per4med at the event).
I didn't learn a whole lot that I thot was new from this book, & the stuff that was new I didn't think was all that important. My faverite sections were about the music -- the early days of Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, T. Rex, the Deviants & the Pink Fairies (in fact, the long, involved stories of these last 2 acts R summa the best stories in the book, possibly Bcos sevral members of the bands were interviewed). But after these, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix & Eric Clapton, there is very little other music mentioned in the book.
After that, the best stories R about the underground press -- IT & OZ & INK & Friendz & Time Out & others, how they hadta dodge creditors & try 2 stay ahead of the authorities -- who took the editors & publishers of OZ 2 trial on obscenity charges & won, driving the paper outta bizness.
Many of the interviewees provide info that supports a lotta these stories. & some of the stories R laff-out-loud funny, especially those narrated by hustlers like Steve Sparks, Peter Shertser & Felix Dennis. Mick Farren also provides a great deal of vivid reminiscence.
Toward the Nd of the book, summa the interviewees Bgin letting on that it wasn't all free love, great dope & good times back then. Some of them did not have a good time (underground scene-organizer John Hopkins, 4 1). Some of them weren't happy then & were less happy when they were interviewed. Some of them R bitter, & some of their grudges go back 25 yrs. They don't all LIKE each other, & Green often places enemies' quotes right next 2 each other 4 greater contrast.
It sounds almost like whining 4 me 2 complain about a book that kept me reading 4 the last 2 or 3 wks, kept me laffing & turning the pgs. I'm complaining that it's not vivid & solid enuf, as if the book should B thrusting day-glo photos up in2 my face when I'm trying 2 read.
It frustrates me a little that a single author can provide a more vivid capsule-look at what the '60s were like (in books like Nicholas Schaffner's SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS, Richard DiLello's LONGEST COCKTAIL PARTY, David Hajdu's POSITIVELY 4TH STREET, Jeff Tamarkin's GOT A REVOLUTION!, or NE of Hunter S. Thompson's work up thru 1977) than 101 interviewees who lived thru it & had their memries transcribed in2 440 pgs. But mayB that's the drawback of the "oral history" approach. U get some good info & some funny stories, but....
Near the Nd of DAYS IN THE LIFE, 1 of Green's interviewees calls the English '60s "some kind of Golden Age." & U can almost C it, if not quite feel it. I just wish more of it came across in this book....

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