For starters, the actual title of the book is ‘Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, C.S.N.Y. and the Lost Story of 1970’, and although it is a befitting title it is, the book encompasses so much more. Author David Browne ties together three major iconic music acts of the 1960s and a fourth emerging into the 1970s with an incredibly turbulent end to one era, and the beginning of another. The ’50s my not have ended in 1960, but Browne makes a valid argument that the ’60s ended, kaput, in 1970 – a concept I’ve embraced myself for a long time, which is why – for me – the words almost jumped off the pages as affirmation.
There is no question that art reflects life, and life reflects art, but likely never in such an amplified way than in the late 1960s. Music and culture were intertwined, and David Browne seamlessly weaves the implosions of The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and C.S.N.Y. with the implosion of the tumultuous anti-war protest and civil rights embattled ’60s, and how what was left when the smoke cleared was a completely different world – for better or for worse.
I think what I enjoyed most about Browne’s book was his storytelling style. His research was impeccable and his narrative was thoroughly entertaining. I learned a great deal about the era and the artists, in some cases too much, as the tales of C.S.N.Y. left an acrid aftertaste in my mouth (which I’m uncertain if this was the authors intention, as it’s clear he is a big fan). At certain points I almost thought this book might be alternately titled “Hippie Icons Behaving Badly”, as Browne dispelled many illusions and beliefs I once had had about the sincerity behind the beautiful and sometimes political music.
In the final chapter, aptly named ‘Coda’, Browne gives an insightful and interesting synopsis of the forty years following 1970, making sure to point out how these four acts (or their individual parts) danced in and out of each others spheres for another four decades.
Overall, this book is a win, and I’d suggest it to anyone interested in a strong argument for the “what the heck happened” theories between the ’60s and ’70s. I myself am caught between loving the music of both decades/eras, and found Fire and Rain to be a phenomenal read. In conclusion, I’ve just got three words for David Browne… Write more books.
DJ and Musicologist