Tag Archives: Marty Balin

Get It While You Can

Live at the Fillmore (nook book)

Live at the Fillmore East & West by John Glatt (Lyons Press, $26.95, 413 pages)

Live at the Fillmore East & West by John Glatt is an entertaining overview of the rock scene in the late 60s and early 70s, but it did not provide quite as much information as I expected. The book is not an accounting of all or most of the bands that played at the Fillmore East in New York City or at the Fillmore West in San Francisco (which was once my veritable second home). Instead, it is a snapshot of the times, with particular focus given to – as noted on the cover – Bill Graham, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, and Carlos Santana. One’s enjoyment in reading the book will depend on how interested you are in these four figures. So much has been written about Joplin that there’s little new here, and there’s likely too much about promoter Bill Graham as Glatt earlier wrote Rage & Roll: Bill Graham and the Selling of Rock.

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Another issue is that in attempting to humanize these figures, there’s too much attention paid to their flaws and conflicts and personal relationships; too little attention is paid to the music they created. As with most rock and roll stories, sex and drugs are over-emphasized. Graham is quoted as stating that, “…cocaine came in and cocaine ruined the music.” Even if this is true, focusing on musicians’ drug use grows boring quickly – very, very quickly.

The most fascinating part of Live is the detailed explanation as to how the Fillmore East came to be born. Fillmore West likely gets less attention than it deserved. It’s worth restating that the music fails to get the attention it deserves. Glatt’s account ends somewhat suddenly and anti-climatically with Graham’s accidental death, after the closing of the rock palaces.

Although Live lacks the depth and detail that its subtitle promised (“Getting Backstage and Personal with Rock’s Greatest Legends”), it nevertheless makes me want to read Glatt’s earlier rock and roll book.

Recommended
, for those seeking a less than fully comprehensive look at the subject matter.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Note: The hardbound release contains several errors/typos. For example, Spencer Dryden is referred to as Spender Dryden. The Monterey Folk Festival is called the Monterrey Folk Festival. And the drug Halcion is called Halcyon. These mistakes will hopefully be corrected in the trade paperback edition.

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It Don’t Come Easy

Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970 by David Browne (Da Capo, $26.00, 368 pages)

“Half the people are stoned/And the other half are waiting for the next election.”   Paul Simon

The year 1970, as some of us remember, was the year that Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water was both the best-selling album and single of the year.   But what might not be remembered is that S&G would soon be targeted – during the very same year – as rock’s ultra-conservative sell-outs.   The New Yorker music critic, Ellen Willis, wrote of Mr. Simon:  “I consider his soft sound a copout.   And I hate most of his lyrics; his alienation,  like the word itself, is an old-fashioned, sentimental, West-Side-liberal bore.”

Not to be outdone, critic Miles Kingston (who claimed to be a fan) wrote:  “Some people hate Simon and Garfunkel because their music has no guts, because it is a middle-class look at life, because it slips too easily from idiom to idiom.”   Kingston described their fans as “the left-out kids – the loners, the book-worms… (and worse).”   And then there was the Time Magazine reporter, assigned to do a cover story on James Taylor, who wrote that, “…the people interested in James Taylor are those who never quite got over a fascination with Simon and Garfunkel.   Upon whom it is now fashionable to dump.”

Yes, David Browne has a knack for finding interesting bits and bytes of information that challenge our collective memory.   This is a non-fiction account of the 1970s – and, specifically, the decade’s beginning – in post Kent State America.   Browne writes about the softening of rock ‘n roll in a year that saw the demise of three of the world’s most successful groups – The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY).   Yet, in a year that one publication initially termed The Year That Melody in Popular Music Had Died, it was to be a year of rebirth in music, of melody.

If the hard rock of the late 60s had just about killed melody (John Lennon had called Beatle Paul’s Helter Skelter, “just noise…”), it was soon brought back to life in the form of new performers like James Taylor and Elton John.   Browne’s account is actually a melding of two – one, a background look at the music of the time; second, a description of the social and political environments of the late 60s/early 70s.   In this it bears many similarities to Girls Like Us, an earlier-written account of the musical careers and times of Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon.

I noted that Browne has a knack for finding interesting factoids.   Here’s another one…  According to his research, backed by Paul Simon and Paul McCartney, two of the major songs of the decade were written not for the composer’s own group/band but for the voice of Aretha Franklin.   Yes, both Bridge Over Troubled Water and Let It Be were specifically written for the Queen of Soul, who – luckily for fate – rejected them.   It’s one reason that both songs, written within weeks of each other, share a gospel soul and structure.

If you’d like to read more fascinating things that you never knew about all of the band members and performers listed in the book’s subtitle, and about others like Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Phil Spector, Allen Klein, Mary Balin, and Billy Preston, you’ll want to run and pick this one up.   As James Taylor was to sing, “Hey, Mister, That’s Me Up on the Jukebox!”

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Notes – Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller was reviewed on this site on February 2, 2011 (“Women of Heart and Mind”).

Elizabeth Taylor was to say that, “People don’t like sustained success.”   Which is perhaps why, in 1970, George Harrison sold more records than either Paul McCartney or John Lennon.

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