Thursday, May 11, 2006

Brought To Book No.2

Currently halfway through Joe Boyd's long-awaited opus, White Bicycles. It's been in the pipeline for a few years now and unfortunately, while it does give one a genuine thrill reading the words of a man who was literally there at several of the cultural turning points of the 60s (bringing Muddy Waters to England, Dylan at Newport, 14 hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace etc.), it's obviously the work of a man who understands music but doesn't really have the words to match. hardly ever does it rise much above the level of anecdote. Too many times you get a rollercoaster ride through a star-studded incident (the book reads like a counter cultural who's who) filled with incidents that would be far funnier from the pen of someone more experienced and, finally, get a really deep but brief insight into the way Boyd actually thinks about music. His description of Aretha Franklin's performance of her classics to a predominantly white audience is wonderful:
'Waves of self-congratulatory affection passed back and forth between them: she claiming credit for recognizing what they wanted to hear; the audience adoring themselves for being so hip as to want the 'real thing'. The music was caught in the middle, lifeless and predictable.'
But these snippets (also including his theories as to why English people despise their folk heritage) are too spread out between long passages of 'yes, I was there' stuff.
His analysis of the cultural differences between his native USA and Britain also make compelling reading. We forget how damn HIP we were back then - he describes how he realised this when hearing white teenage English girls screaming for John Lee Hooker in the early 60s, when most Americans didn't even know who he was. It's just a shame that we also have to know how he once had dinner in the same chic French restaurant with Picasso. In all of this it's hard to see Boyd as a person rather than just some superhuman cultural fixer who always knew a good thing when he heard it. To be fair he does constantly refer to himself as an eminence grise but alittle more contextualisation would have been nice.
On a final note , while Joe mixed it up with some of the late 60s mostr eminent 'faces' (Syd Barrett, Mick Farren, Sandy Denny, John 'Hoppy Hopkins, Caroline Coon, Michael X etc.), it's interesting to note that all the best stories are about the Jazz musicians who he handled before 'rock' was born at Newport. The story about Elvin Jones' dog is priceless...

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