Pick up a history book about 1968 and you’ll get the usual facts about Tet, MLK, RFK, riots, protests, Nixon, and of course, psychedelics. What you won’t get is how all the trauma of the times impacted the city of Boston. Unless you tune in to Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968.
Yes, this book is about Van Morrison and the writing and recording of that seminal album. But it’s about so much more: Mel Lyman, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Velvet Underground, James Brown, Peter Wolf, to name just a few. They’re all part of this fascinating piece of Beantown history. As a Bostonian by way of my family and my six-year residency, my interest in this ran high just from reading the description. Ryan Walsh did not disappoint.
Walsh, a fellow Boston University grad, dug deep. DEEP. He managed to get an interview with the elusive Woofa Goofa, that guy from the J. Geils Band, and listened to music that us commoners will never hear. Stuff from vaults and private collections. He tracked down ancient music producers and reclusive Fort Hill Community members. He discovered connections to then unknown Dr. Andrew Weil and the guy who claimed to be the Boston Strangler. It’s a bit like six degrees of separation, New England-style.
It’s good stuff. Hell, it’s great stuff. You’ll read about James Brown performing at the Boston Garden the day after the assassination of MLK, helping keep peace in the city. You’ll learn about the movie Zabriskie Point and the TV show "What’s Happening, Mr. Silver?" as well as the origins of the Bosstown Sound.
Then you’ll turn on to, well, Mr. Turn On, Timothy Leary, who was busy dosing folks with hallucinogens in the basement of Marsh Chapel (wish I had known that when I took classes there!) and expanding minds. Is there anything hippier? Trippier? Haight Ashbury ain’t got nothing on Boston and Walsh has done his due diligence, and then some, to prove it.
Drop out for a day or two and immerse yourself in this word trip. It’s well worth taking.