Thursday, August 5, 2010

R.E.M., Britfolk and White Bicycles

A lot of us are excited that Fables of the Reconstruction -- R.E.M.'s most poetic and mysterious album -- has just gotten a deluxe reissue complete with remaster and new material. Much of the weird, echoey Southern Gothic mojo on that 1985 album came from Britfolk producer Joe Boyd, and I'm reminded how great Boyd's memoir of the '60s and early '70s, White Bicycles, is.

In fact. I will second the statement of Brian Eno, who calls it "a gripping piece of social history and the best book about music I've read in years."

I knew Boyd's name for his work with Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson, Vashti Bunyan and Nick Drake. Boyd was an American college boy who went London while very young and helped invent British folk rock. He met Drake when the sad poet was a lost Cambridge student. He also ran the London psychedelic club UFO which helped birth Pink Floyd.

What I hadn't known was that Boyd got his start as a teenager -- whose friends had discovered that the great Lonnie Johnson was working as a cook in a Philadelphia hotel, tracked him down and invited him to play a house party in Princeton before they left for college.

Within a few years he was accompanying Muddy Waters and Coleman Hawkins through Europe as part of the early '60s boom in blues festivals... And Boyd became stage manager for the 1965 Newport Folk Festival at which Dylan notoriously plugged in. The book puts him close to much of the action, in a kind of Zelig-like way.

Of course, all of this would be a kind of glorified name-dropping if Boyd could not write and observe so well. White Bicycles is as good a document as I know on the social revolution of the '60s -- the utopian dreams and musical possibilities as well as the drug casualties and damage done by kook religions.

In any case, here is one book where I am quite eager for the sequel.

Let me close with Fables for a second. This was the first R.E.M. record whose release I was aware of -- and I remember the bizarre, muted beauty of songs like "Green Grow the Rushes" and "Maps and Legends" on the local alternative radio station, and the weirdly understated video for "Driver 8." It was around time I started to open my own taste up from the steady and fervent diet of Beatles-Stones-Dylan to the music of my own time.

And while R.E.M. went on to put out at least two records I feel strongly about, there's something on Fables they never captured again.

7 comments:

淑倫惟芳 said...

與人相處不妨多用眼睛說話,多用嘴巴思考,............................................................

張黃柏亞武茜 said...

所有的資產,在不被諒解時,都成了負債............................................................

Scott Timberg said...

I could not have said it better myself...

Pete Bilderback said...

Boyd is an interesting figure. I will definitely pick this up, thanks for the recommendation.

Scott Timberg said...

It's the kind of book that benefits from being short, distilled, but I would happily have read it twice as long.

boyd1j said...

Hi Scott and readers

Joe Boyd here - if anyone is interested, I'll be at Largo in LA this Thursday (23rd Sept) with Robyn Hitchcock - I read from White Bicycles and he sings the songs I read about.

best

Joe Boyd

Scott Timberg said...

Very cool to hear from Joe Boyd himself... When White Bicycles came out, and Boyd had an event at the Skirball, I was asked to interview him for the LA Times... Because I had a packed schedule at the time I passed on the assignment, and it's one of my few regrets at that job.

In either case, intrigued by Boyd's Largo gig...