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Award-winning journalist and beloved music critic David Browne continues his string of successful band profiles, digging past his recent subjects of Jeff Buckley and Sonic Youth, to four of the most undisputedly influential rock legends falling apart at the end of the Decade of Love. As the seasons turn, the interlocking portraits of these four struggling musical partnerships shed new light on an often overlooked moment in the history of a country and a music scene.
Earphones Award-winner Sean Runnette narrates the book like he is sitting in your living room. Browne has set an easy-going tone that Runnette delivers with a friendly charisma and a fine ear for the sad parts of the story. This is a time where the bestselling albums in America all belonged to bands on the brink of implosion. Ironic parallels between the album content and the lives of the musicians abound. The Beatles are tying up loose ends on Let It Be while McCartney and Lennon each refuse to leave the other's nasty press quotes alone. James Taylor is riding the wave of Sweet Baby James while privately ignoring his heroin addiction. Simon and Garfunkel debut Bridge Over Troubled Water while burning bridges as Simon turns to teaching and Garfunkel turns to acting. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are pushing out Deja Vu while all four are much more focused on their solo careers.
As a backdrop to these tales of celebrity won and sanity lost, Browne provides ample historical context. Students killed in the Kent State riots drew the attention of Neil Young, the next wave of protest movements drew several rock stars to Joni Mitchell in competing romantic intrigues, everybody was glued to the news coverage of Apollo 13, and the meteoric rise of Led Zeppelin was poised to give all four bands a run for their money. In the hands of a less capable narrator, this fascinating moment in music history might amount to nothing more than a major bummer. But Runnette keeps the listener engaged and optimistic, adding a nostalgic flavor that will make you want to blow the dust off these albums and appreciate what you've been missing in a much more nuanced way. Megan Volpert
January 1970: the Beatles assemble one more time to put the finishing touches on Let It Be; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are wrapping up Déjà Vu; Simon and Garfunkel are unveiling Bridge Over Troubled Water; James Taylor is an upstart singer-songwriter who's just completed Sweet Baby James. Over the course of the next twelve months, their lives---and the world around them---will change irrevocably.
Fire and Rain tells the story of four iconic albums of 1970 and the lives, times, and constantly intertwining personal ties of the remarkable artists who made them. Acclaimed journalist David Browne sets these stories against an increasingly chaotic backdrop of events that sent the world spinning throughout that tumultuous year: Kent State, the Apollo 13 debacle, ongoing bombings by radical left-wing groups, the diffusion of the antiwar movement, and much more. Featuring candid interviews with more than 100 luminaries, including some of the artists themselves, Browne's vivid narrative tells the incredible story of how---over the course of 12 turbulent months---the '60s effectively ended and the '70s began.
I bought this because I graduated from high school in '70 and began college- and couldn't remember a whole lot of details from that year. The author has researched it meticulously, giving quotes from members of the bands and setting political backdrops. The narrator is also very good. I have a very hard time putting it down- it is as if you have someone in your living room with you, telling you about what was going on as if he knew these people well, and remembered it perfectly. I have told several people about this book and may give it as a gift, along with some of the music. I find myself playing the songs he describes-
20 of 20 people found this review helpful
An insightful look at the classic rock star arc: poor, some success, a bunch of excess then immortality after losing touch. Some B-side and bottom of the album references were meaningless but a real, heavy-duty fan of the bands would understand. There is a bit of innocence throughout and a ton of sex/drugs...did they really not know the long-term effects or did they not care? Well, sex, drugs and rock-n-roll had to start somewhere. I was not aware of the inter mingling between the groups and that made the book even more interesting. Not a short book. The reader does not imitate the singer's voices but does an admirable job of reflecting the intonation. Hard core, classic rock lovers will love it. Casual fans with an interest in history will like it. You'll still enjoy it if you like to hear about rags to riches to not-so rags stories.
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
What did you like best about Fire and Rain? What did you like least?
Like the author, as he confesses in his foreword, I felt like I just missed out on the 60s. I was 13 when Woodstock took place just ten miles away from where I spent my summers, but my parents wouldn't let me go, especially when they saw the parade of hippies down our street. I had just transitioned from 45s to LPs and was listening to some the very albums this book discusses in detail -- Abbey Road, Deja Vu, Sweet Baby James, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Let it Be, and many of the solo albums that followed.<br/><br/>What I like about Fire & Rain is that it posits that the end of the 60s era was heralded by the break-up of the biggest acts of the moment -- the Beatles, CSNY, Simon & Garfunkle -- rather than the more common watershed moments (the deaths of Hendrix, Joplin, and Jim Morrison, in addition to the universally accepted Beatles break-up). More precisely, I like the explanation of why these groups broke up, heralding a shift from the collective attitudes of the 60s to the "me" generation of the 70s.<br/><br/>What weakens the argument is the focus on the fourth artist, James Taylor, who was just emerging at the same time the others were breaking up. Why choose Taylor? Because he was part of a transition to a mellower rock? He didn't start it, he wasn't its only big name, his brand didn't ruin things like some others, and there was a lot more going on besides mellow rock -- for example, a new group that came in second to CSN as best new band in the 1970 Grammies, you might have heard of them, Led Zeppelin. And lots more.<br/><br/>Not to mention that the solo work of each of the Beatles, most of CSNY (especially Y), and Paul Simon was quite notable in and of itself, especially the very albums released or started in 1970 during and in the immediate aftermath of the break-ups.<br/><br/>In a similar vein, I liked how the author tied in political and social moments and movements that rocked the world during 1970, making a good case of how they contributed to the end of the era and the start of a new one. On the other hand, the events of 1970, like its music, did not happen in a vacuum -- they were part of a continuum that started much earlier and continued for quite some time.<br/><br/>In a different vein, I liked the inside baseball stories of how these groups imploded, professionally and personally, individually and collectively, during this volatile year. But the stories did start to get repetitious, the clashes of drug-addled sex-crazed egos starting to sound like a broken record after a while.
Would you recommend Fire and Rain to your friends? Why or why not?
I would recommend Fire & Rain to friends who are my age who grew up on this music. I would also recommend it to younger people who are interested in the music of any era, but more so those who are interested in these seminal performers who have influenced subsequent generations (and in some cases are still going strong and even resurging).
What does Sean Runnette bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
While I think his performance is perfectly fine, I don't think it transcends the material itself, not the way some readings (especially of humorous novels) can make a work take on a new life beyond my own ability to imagine them.
Was Fire and Rain worth the listening time?
Yes. I have listened to several similar works about my favorite forms of pop culture -- music (The Wrecking Crew), film (Easy Riders Raging Bulls), TV (Difficult Men), comedy (7 Dirty Words), sports (Fever Pitch) -- as well as works of history and politics (Double Down) -- and those are just the ones I've read in audio. Fire & Rain is far from perfect, taking perhaps too strong a view on the importance of its central thesis, but being a big fan of the musicians that are the central focus, and having come of age at that time, I definitely felt it worth the listen.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
1970 was a pivotal year musically as the Beatles, and Simon and Garfunkel broke up, CSNY flowed together and apart, and James Taylor emerged.
Browne discusses individuals, drug abuse, albums, lyrics against the back-drop of this year with the memory of asassinations and the current setting of Vietnam, the Manson family, Weather Underground, Kent State and the beginnings of Earth Day and Green Peace.
I started the book because these groups were my favorites, and it brought back and connected many things that happened during my mid-teens. It does cover the chaos of the time.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of Fire and Rain to be better than the print version?
At times there were details missed that I wanted to go back to. With a book it would take the turn of a page for that detail to be found and appreciated. In any event, this only makes you want to listen to the audio book once more. Otherwise this audio version of Fire and Rain would equal its printed version.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Fire and Rain?
There many memorable moments that stood out in Fire and Rain. All the stories revealed the triumphs and pitfalls of each group- Having lived the 70's years as a young boy, I relished the origins of songs like Judy Blue Eyes and Fire and Rain. I understood more the dynamics that led to the break-ups of CSNY, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Beatles;and why certain friendships remain true to this day as in the case of James Taylor and Carole King. Well researched, it filled in whatever facts were hidden from the fans.
What about Sean Runnette’s performance did you like?
Mr. Sean Runnette's reading was appropriate for the book. He was like a friend sharing an anecdote or two about our favorite singing groups. His voice is mature, credible, and appropriate for the age group who would patronize the book.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
At the end of the last page, the book tied up all the loose ends, but like the lives it mirrored some stories were left unfinished (we all knew what happened next). Some break-ups made me regret because all that was needed was open communication. However, like one attending a school reunion, the book left me satisfied because it made me vicariously revisit the period, the clothes, the places, and the hit makers who shared their music with us.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
If you were alive and experienced music in 1970 this is a must read. I have purchased copies of this book for all of my friends who turned 60 last year and this year - all of them loved it. A great story about great musicians. I wish I were 17 again..... and I wish they made music like that today....anyway this book is a great time travel.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
This is a romp through the wild and crazy world of the Beatles breaking up, Simon & Garfunkel rising to dominance (and breaking up), CSNY rising to be the “American Beatles” (and breaking up) while James Taylor rose to dominance and shot heroin – all against a backdrop of Nixon’s America. I had always understood that the 60s happened in Greenwich Village and the Haight. I was delighted to learn the rest of the story in Michael Walkers 2007 book Laurel Canyon. I had hoped Fire and Rain would fill in more of the blanks since many of my favorite acts of that period were LA based. This book was actually all over the globe connecting the break-up of the Beatles in London to the Simon and Garfunkel in New York to CSNY forming in Laurel Canyon. The social significance, business and musical connections of these acts along with Joni Mitchel and Carol King are not surprising, but in fascinating none the less.
Being me, I hear the songs as they are referenced and see the album covers and photo shoots and in many cases, I remember my first listen. This was a special time for anyone who grew up in the 70s and I don’t think it gets enough coverage. Excellent book, though it may not have as much significance for not 70s Folk/Rock fans.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Focusing on four of popular music most influential groups to tell the story of 1970 draws the music junkie into a history lesson of one of the most turbulent times in recent American history. Mr Browne is able to focus on the groups while giving an over all background history of the end of the sixties and the beginning what some refer to as the desert of the seventies. In an effort to maintain focus on the chosen subject he gives cursory or no attention to the other forms which also developed during this time (prog rock-Jethro Tull Yes Pink Floyd King Crimson et al, the horn bands-Chicago Blood Sweat and Tears, the rise of funk-Earth Wind and Fire Tower of Power) which leaves the listener with the feeling that we were only bound for the land of Disco. Overall, the nit picking aside, this is a very informative and enjoyable book.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Being of an age, it is hard for me to imagine how this expansive review of the year 1970 would read for a younger person. My kids do seem to be interested in the era, but I suspect it is because 1) the first ones there mined that musical vein out; and 2) nothing better has come along since. In any event, I was there and this multi-biography/social history gets it just right. The narrative is balanced and if anything gives The
Beatles less attention than the other three acts. If you were paying attention all those years ago (and since) not a whole lot new is here, but its fun and entertaining to reminisce. One remarkable fact the book brought out was the radicalism of the times, with respect to bombings and social turmoil. We tend to forget the nastiness of it all. The narrator is very good and the text flows elegantly. Nothing challenging here, but for those who were there, a fun rewind.
11 of 13 people found this review helpful
I lived through that time. He nailed it! The reader does a great job too. Excellent.
10 of 12 people found this review helpful
At first I was disappointed, having expected from the sample that it would be part-memoir, part-history of a single year in rock history. In the end there was no memoir, but the presentation of its selected artists in detail, made me realise that 1970 is not the most covered year; I learned much more about CSNY and James Taylor than I'd known before, even Simon & Garfunkel. Only The Beatles segments taught me nothing new, but I've read so much about them that even here there will much of interest to non-experts.
There was a backdrop of the year's wider events, such as The Weathermen terrorist bombs, pop festivals, space missions, the Kent State shootings.
The negative was the narration. It was so tediously monotonous and lacked any excitement, that it sent me off to sleep more than once. The narrator even unwisely attempted the occasional English - even Liverpool! - accent, which were laughable failures.
This book is packed full if stories and information about the first year of the new decade after the turbulence of the 1960.s. It's also full of stupid weak excuses for taking drugs and 'chilling out'. I mean, to say they didn't know what drugs would do is jsut silly considering the sixties were riddled with adicts and to say everyone else was doing it is jsut as weak. Still that's what they said. I gave this book the rating I did because I can't stand the style of writing. It's too journalistic for my taste. who cares whe recalled what? If it's the truth that's all that matters not who said what or remembered something or simpl;y 'recalled' as a lot of people did in this book. So I have mixed feeling about this book. The narator can't seem to make up hsi mind whether to attempt the various accents or not. Caught in two minds and doing neither seems to be the thing. However if you want facts then read this if you are not as exacting as I am re style you might even enjoy it more than I did.
Would you listen to Fire and Rain again? Why?
No, I've never listened to an Audiobook twice yet and, although very good, this is unlikely to be the first.
What three words best describe Sean Runnette’s voice?
Can't do accents
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
The Kent scene setting was particularly well presented.
Any additional comments?
I know the reader is American, I'm fine with that, he didn't seem to try to do regional accents when quoting US artists so why did he attempt such a thing when quoting British artists? We all know The Beatles were all Liverpudlian so why did they (and Graham Nash) end up with an Irish accent? It was rather off-putting. Otherwise a very interesting well woven (if there was a section that didn't interest me, it didn't dwell there too long) story. I'm glad I've got a Spotify sub as I was often using it to play the songs and albums talked about.