Saturday, May 21, 2016

Pop Culture Books # 3 - 1966 by Jon Savage

As with all really great books I felt a sense of sadness reaching the final line of 1966 and slapping the thing shut. It's a true monolith. One of the greatest treaties written about Pop Culture and its impact on the world around it. Savage of course has form in this respect, having already produced the still-definitive historical document on Punk, England's Dreaming in 1991.

That's a very, very fine book but I'd say 1966 is even better. Eschewing nostalgia or foresight of  any sort, Savage grounds himself in the year itself, a remarkable one for Pop Music of course but also for the world it inhabited and soundtracked. Dividing his book into twelve chapters, one for each calendar month, he focuses his writing on singles, as it was the last year that they took true precedence before albums overtook them as the serious format for expression from '67 onward, and things became serious and introverted, Pop became Rock, shifting inevitably towards self-conscious art.

It's an intense yet objective treatment of the year and what happened during it. Savage prose maintains a masterful balance between embodying the sheer excitement of the records he documents while placing them within their context and detailing the larger picture of the astonishing turbulence of the year in politics, society and the true birth of the counter-culture.

You get Beatles,Stones,Yardbirds, Dylan, Who, Kinks, James Brown, Motown, Love, Byrds, Stax, Beach Boys, Dusty Springfield, Velvets, Small Faces, Pink Floyd, Buffalo Springfield, Hendrix, Cream and Monkees. You also get the smaller players, and Savage knits them all in within a fabric of generational foment, Vietnam, social protest, racial strife, sexual revolution and the shock of violent, intense and tragic news events.

Savage excels himself. It's a lesson in how to write about these things. Capture the thrill of the times but more importantly, be true to them. Setting himself against the prevalent but regrettable trend of looking back at our recent history and its music as an exercise in dewy eyed nostalgia. In his own words.

'I'm very tired of the way a lot of music writing now is about personal experience and generational nostalgia. I'm not interested in talking about whether I ate Crunchies or Orange Aeros on my way back from school. That's by the by.'

Nevertheless, or possibly contrarily directly because of this way of going about things, it's all actually very moving. Because Savage obviously loves the music he writes about and determines to do it justice. In this respect it's an unqualified success:

'Because you know it doesn't matter if a right wing historian slags off John Lennon. It just doesn't matter. Those records will last.'

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