Tag Archives: Chris Hillman

Time Between

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel (Harper; $24.99; 320 pages)

“It was so easy, I understood now, to take a wrong turn…”

“All the days have turned to years…”   Chris Hillman (“Time Between,” The Byrds)

This is a novel that finishes well.   This being said, the first half of the novel is a muddy bog.   I often felt as if I was reading the diary of an obsessive person who notices every detail but has no idea as to what meaning to attach to the aggregation.   Here is a sampling:

Paul stopped walking and I almost bumped into him.   I could see the pink of his skin through the translucent white of his T-shirt, the short hairs on the back of his neck.   “Look,” he said, pointing at the water.   By his foot, a blue crab skittered across the sand, then slipped underneath a rock.   …He offered me his hand and I took it, but only until I’d stepped over a wide stretch of coral.   We walked for an hour.   Paul spoke only to point out a creature or plant, and I spoke only to acknowledge him.   The flats surrounded our stilt home on three sides, and I’d never before walked to their far edges.

This is not quite scintillating reading, and there are 150 or so pages like this before the plotline begins to come together.   This is the story of a Miami couple and the events that happen to them and their daughter between the years of 1969 and 1993.   It seems to take forever to get to the 90s.

The future married couple at the center of this tale initially meet as young college students playing in a community of homes built on pilings in the waters of Biscayne Bay, Florida.   The collection of homes is known as Stiltsville.   It’s a community that will not last, one of the many things revealed to the reader before he/she actually needs to know it.   Susanna Daniel has the frustrating habit of setting a scene, the events involving the main characters, in current time before skipping forward to tell you what will happen later.   For example, her female protagonist’s first impressions of Miami are that, “…the city (Miami) seemed large to me…  though it would double in breadth and height and population during the time I lived there.”

This needless plot device is used far too many times.   In one odd instance, the lead character is telling us about today before she jumps to “nearly a year later.”   Contra, another time we suddenly shift from today to the events of the preceding day.   Later on, we’re reading about what’s happening to the family one evening before we’re abruptly shifted back to the supposedly related events that occurred eight months earlier.   All of this is far too clever to be interesting.

There’s also the problem of stilted language in Stiltsville.   Early on our female lead tells us that, “…after meeting Dennis, I saw in my own future bright, unknowable, possibilities.   I’m a bit ashamed to have been a person without much agency in life…”   Agency?   What reader knows a person who would use that word today…  and in Miami?   Her future husband Dennis, by the way, works for a successful law firm in Miami but seems to know little about law.   In one scene, he worries that he’ll be arrested by the Coast Guard (and quite possibly disbarred) for buying a boat from a person who may not have had clear title to it.   Any first year law student would tell him not to worry, but then this is fiction.

Stiltsville also includes some paths that lead nowhere.   At one point Daniel includes a thinly disguised take-off on the Rodney King case, except that it’s set in Miami rather than Los Angeles.   The reader is meant to get somewhat worked up about riots and the prospect of better communities being invaded before this side-story disappears.   It has nothing to do with the main story, so why was it included?

In the latter part of the novel, Daniel does create some quotable statements such as, “The cement of a marriage never dries.”   She also displays her cleverness in dropping a near tragedy into our laps before sidestepping it.   And, finally, there’s the point at which someone is affected by a devastating illness.   If Daniel had begun at this point she might have crafted a tight, compelling and fascinating debut.   Instead, Stiltsville exposes us to a writer of some potential who failed to put much of it down on the written page this time around.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was received from the publisher.

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Wild Horses: The Flying Burrito Brothers

With the release of Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers by John Einarson and Chris Hillman, another door has opened on the history of what I call rhythm & blues-folk-country rock.   This book contains 326 pages of music history and enlightenment.   Hillman is recognized as one of the founders of the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers (FBB), Manassas, and The Desert Rose Band.   His contribution to music is legendary.

Einarson has previously written Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of the Byrds’ Gene Clark; Desperadoes: The roots of Country Rock; For What It’s Worth: The Story of Buffalo Springfield;  Neil Young: Don’t Be Denied and several other books on contemporary music.

Hot Burritos is a book that covers not just the FBB’s history but also the wind currents swirling around the band during its creation, life and demise.   This is one of the first books to be critical of the myths and roles assigned to Gram Parsons.   It’s also one of the first that places Roger McGuinn in a positive light.   While much has been made of Parsons, more should be written about the involvement of McGuinn, Hillman, the Dillard Brothers, Young, Stephen Stills, Poco, and Rick Nelson & the Stone Canyon Band.   They all shaped the special style of music that was to come.

This book is a continuation of Einarson’s look at how this hybrid music was forged.   Sadly, too many people believe the era began with The Eagles; a small cog present (as Linda Rondstadt’s back-up musicians) at the creation of the “country rock” era.   As this book delves into the music’s roots, we learn of great country bands and of the music of Bakersfield, California; a worthy rival to Nashville.   All of this music was imprinted on the FBB and their progeny.

It’s sad to look back to see how alcohol and drug abuse negated the creative forces of so many musicians and song writers.   And accidents that claimed the lives of some of the best…   How would the music of Rick Nelson, Clarence White and/or Gene Clark have evolved if not for their untimely deaths?     

It is hoped that Einarson will next explore the roles of Judy Collins, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Linda Rondstadt, Emmy Lou Harris and other women who were also integral creators of this style of music.   And, of course, would any of this have been possible without Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Elias McDaniel or Bob Dylan?   “Hey, mister tambourine man, play a song for me…”. 

Adapted and reprinted from the Troy Bear blog.   This review was written by Ice B. on February 18, 2009.Hot Burritos (lg.)

Also recomended is Are You Ready for the Country: Elvis, Dylan, Parsons & the Roots of Country Music by Peter Doggett.   John Einarson is currently working on a biography of the late Arthur Lee of the Los Angeles based band Love.

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Hot BurritosA review of Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers.

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