Sunday, March 25, 2007

Book review: "Hotel California" by Barney Hoskyns

I just finished reading Hotel California: The True-life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends, (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006), by British music critic and writer Barney Hoskyns. And I mean I just finished it, maybe fifteen or twenty minutes ago. And I have to recommend it to anyone with any interest in the Los Angeles folk/country rock/singer-songwriter movement of the 1960s and early 1970s.

This is a very good book. It’s quite gossipy, and no one here comes out looking like an angel. However, it also looks at this group of musicians, most of whom lived in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon for at least part of the period covered, and the various managers, producers, record executives, and hangers-on surrounding them, in a comprehensive and appreciative manner. Hoskyns talked to just about everyone involved (the list of those he interviewed runs to nearly a solid page) and relied on interviews by others of those who were inaccessible or not interested in talking. From the looks of the list, which appears in the preface, almost everyone who was still alive at the time was willing to talk.

The amazing thing…the most amazing, I should say, because there were a few amazing things here…to me was the sheer amount of cross-fertilization there was during the time covered, musically speaking. (There were other forms of cross-fertilization - and a lot of it - going on as well, but that is in the realm of that gossip I wrote about, above). At some point, it seems, everyone worked with everyone, even if they didn’t exactly get along that well all the time. I grew up during that time, listening to some of that music, and I knew about some of the collaborations that took place, but I had no idea of the extent of it. For a little while, it was a real community, making a lot of very good music.

One of the things I like best about Hoskyns’s book is that it doesn’t just cover the headliners. All the folks you’ve heard of and whose music you know are in here…CSNY, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Jackson Browne. But so are the ones you might have heard of but whose music you might not know, or might not know you know…Gram Parsons, J. D. Souther, Chris Hillman, Van Dyke Parks, and a host of others. There are guest appearances by none other than Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and a few others. And there are the ones who you’ve probably never heard of but who were, according to the information here, integral members of the community. They all have to be here, to make the story complete.

There were even things I could connect to personally in the book. When I attended the March 25, 1973 performance of Neil Young’s Time Fades Away tour at the Fourm in Inglewood (34 years ago tonight, as I write this, I just now realized) I had no idea of the drama that had accompanied the tour. That is covered briefly here, and made me sit up and take notice as a place where my own experience crossed, however briefly and on the surface, with the events of the book. It was a hell of a show, by the way, with Linda Ronstadt as the opening act and guest appearances by David Crosby and Graham Nash. I’ll forever remember the idiot in the audience shouting out a request at one point between songs. Young’s answer: “It’s my concert, and I’ll sing whatever I damn well please.” The audience, myself included, cheered the answer.

The book is bittersweet, especially as Hoskyns covers the casualties of the period, writing about the ones who didn’t survive the excesses of the era. But it is also heartening to realize that the relationships that seemed at times during that era to be irretrievably broken, didn’t really mean the end of the music that some of those folks made together. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, who certainly had their ups and downs both individually and in terms of their interpersonal relationships, have toured as recently as last year. The same with the Eagles.

At the end of the book, there is some coverage of how the music industry has changed since the time covered here. That got me to thinking. At that time, if an artist didn’t hit right away, their label might well stick with them, let their music mature into something that could be really successful. Today, on the other hand, the industry is just that: a corporate enterprise that only considers the bottom line and has to issue a profits statement every quarter. It is an environment where there are very few second chances, and where what gets heard is not necessarily what is good but simply what makes money, even though it might only make money because millions of prepubescent girls buy the music because, as in the case of the boy bands, the singers are “cute”. Well, even back in the 60s and 70s, not everything that was good got heard and being “cute” definitely helped a singer or group get heard. But the very good point is made that in the singer-songwriter era there was still some room for conscience in the industry; it doesn’t seem to be the case much now.

At the very least, Hotel California is a good enough book that I’ve already got an earlier Hoskins book, Waiting for the Sun: Strange Days, Weird Scenes, and the Sound of Los Angeles, which takes a wider look at the L.A. music scene, already on request at the library.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

And then there's the other reason I haven't been posting...

My lack of posts here recently doesn't have anything to do with a lack of things to write about, but rather with a proliferation of important issues and the fact that when I start to write about them I tend to get upset, stressed, and more than a little bent out of shape.

I guess it isn't much of a secret that I'm not really that happy with some of the directions I see my country, the good old US of A, going these days. Or, should I say, the way it is being led down a dangerous path by the current administration. I have some very strong views about some of the things that have been going on...Iraq and Afghanistan, an administration that leaks like a sieve when it thinks it will serve its ends, the efforts to pack government agencies with a bunch of ideologues, and more. I want to address these issues, but I want to do so from a logical, coherent point of view.

Unfortunately, lately, I just haven't been able to remain calm enough to write sensibly about it all. Not that I think there is anything wrong with getting upset about what has been going on in my government. Actually, I think distress is probably a healthy response to the dysfunction going on in Washington. But I prefer to write from logic rather from emotion, simply because arguments from emotion are not nearly as effective as arguments from logic. And so I've just refrained from writing about these issues at all.

I'm getting there, though. I'm working through the distress and frustration, and I think I'll have some things to say on the state of the world fairly soon.

Meanwhile, I've been reading some really good books, some of which have only been adding to my distress. But they've been adding to my store of knowledge from which to write from logic as well. Two books I've finished recently and would like to recommend are The Republican Noise Machine, by David Brock, and The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney.

As you can tell, there's a definite theme running through the two volumes. Brock takes as his subject the media which, he shows, is not biased toward the liberal end of the spectrum but to the conservative end. He points out that while reporters might be a bit more liberal socially than the US population at large, they are more conservative economically. And, despite that liberal bent on social issues, the reporters are not the ones who decide what gets reported on the air and printed in the papers...the job of deciding and approving editorial stances goes to management and ownership. And the owners of newspapers and broadcast media outlets are clearly conservative, both economically and socially. Added to that, the repeitition over the past few decades from the conservative media that the media is liberal has resulted in people actually starting to believe that, all evidence to the contrary. Brock points out the number of conservative pundits who get heard and published regularly as opposed to the number of liberal or progressive pundits who have a regular outlet for their opinions. The balance isn't even close to even, with the preponderance of domination going to the conservatives. And, as Brock shows, even some of the "liberal" commentators in the media aren't really all that liberal at all.

I think Brock's most important point is that the conservative media has succeeded in pushing the center so far to the right that what was considered conservative not so long ago is now seen as moderate. And those who were once considered liberal are now looked at as raging leftists, all without changing their views at all. I know that to be the truth. I have long considered myself to be quite moderate in my political views, but I find my opinions (which haven't changed all that much) now pushed farther and farther to the left. What is seen as liberal here in the US would be squarely in the conservative portion of the spectrum in most European nations.

Mooney's book is more narrowly focused on the steps that Republicans have taken in Congress and among the regulatory agencies to discredit and disenfranchise objective science as a force in governmental decision-making. By calling anything that doesn't favor corporate deregulation "junk science", by insisting on "equal time" in public school classrooms for so-called Intelligent Design, by arguing every point made by the scientific establishment on issues such as global warming, by editing scientific reports to conform with administration prejudices and forbidding scientists from speaking either to the press or to colleagues about scientific issues, the Republicans have endeavored to remove science as a component of the decision-making process within the government. Mooney goes into detail about how this has happened in relation to a number of issues. I recommend The Republican War on Science as an essential book for anyone who is concerned about how decisions get made in Washington, D.C. in regards to science and technology issues.

Too many blogs to read, too little time...

And I'm about to point you to a couple more.

It has been a month since I've posted here. I've come to the conclusion that I've been reading too many other blogs and not giving enough time to writing my own. Which is bad for this place, but actually pretty good for me, because I've been reading some pretty interesting stuff. So, I've added a couple of links that I think you all should check out.

First of all, there's The Brad Blog. Brad Friedman and his guest bloggers cover news about voting issues as well as other developments in the political world. Recently, there has been a lot of good coverage of the Libby trial and the issues arising from that, but his top issue continues to be issues concerning voting machines and the struggle to make sure that elections in the United States remain fair and protected from tampering.

The other new link will take you to Mind on Fire, which covers a variety of fascinating issues. That's one of the places where I've been spending a lot of time lately, not only reading their observations on faith, post-faith, and spirituality issues, but responding to these ideas as well. It's a small but active community that encourages an intelligent conversation on those and other issues.