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Monday, July 11, 2011

'Fire and Rain' Examines 1970 Musical Transition

David Browne repackages old information in entertaining new book

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David Browne's Fire and Rain (Da Capo) sets out to understand the 1970 transition from the rock of the 1960s to the softer sounds of the '70s. He focuses on three early-'70s artists that helped to shape this period: James Taylor, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY) and Simon & Garfunkel. Alas, his account of those artists is sometimes muddled in back stories and innuendo, and often not fully referenced. Understandably, the author also highlights the Beatles' breakup and the solo careers that resulted, but depicts Paul McCartney as the bully with insinuations and the much-told folklore of the band's rise and fall. Browne seemingly uses old information to tell newer-sounding stories.

The highlight of Fire and Rain is its coverage of the CSNY concert tour for the Déjà vu album. Browne does a great job of chronicling the unique personalities and musical genius of each of these artists. Like the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel, CSNY were perfectionists in their art, each with his own songs but still cohesive enough to complement the group karma. Browne revels in '70s drug lore and spends a great deal of the tour commenting on the era's drug culture, with an almost nostalgic self-disclosure of his own use of contraband.

Another of the book's central themes is the political vibe that shaped '70s rock. Browne does a nice job of describing the chaos of the times, with draft dodging, the Apollo 13 debacle, the shooting of students at Kent State, the Weathermen and the rise of the “Southern strategy” in American politics.

Browne's research into the transition from the '60s to the '70s is adequate, but none of this information is particularly unique in light of the scores of Beatles books and histories of '70s popular culture. While an entertaining read, Fire and Rain adds no new insights.         
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